John McIlWraith, whose commentaries graced this program between 1990 and 2001, died last Friday. Listeners may recall him plying his thick Scottish accent and wit to subjects ranging from insomnia to a childhood bout with what was thought to be tuberculosis.

(Soundbite of past broadcast)


My mother, who had great faith in the virtues of natural foods and natural home remedies, determined to make me tall and broad and healthy by pumping increasing amounts of milk into my tiny body, smearing great slabs of butter on everything and stuffing me with creamy, rich, local cheese.

But day by day I grew thinner and paler, until it looked as though the first strong wind would carry me away. Many months later, I weighed little more than a two-year-old boy. One doctor grew curious as to why, although obviously besieged by the disease, I had no cough, no sputum, and was refusing to die, so he ran a series of tests and discovered that my only problem was an absolute allergy to milk, to butter, to cheese, to everything that contained butterfat.

They changed my diet and I started gaining weight. I got taller. My face had some color in it and if the Chicago Bears had been the Glasgow Bears, they would have drafted me.

NORRIS: John McIlWraith emigrated from Glasgow to Vancouver, British Columbia. His first job was stoking coal on the western ferries of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, but he soon drifted toward a career more suited to him as a morning radio host in Seattle. He later wrote for newspapers and magazines. Charming to be sure, John McIlWraith was also crusty and he tweaked convention, sometimes raising the hackles of his countrymen.

MCILWRAITH: The Scots are a race not noted for their music. The favorite instrument in Scotland is the piano accordion, followed by the fiddle. The next favorite would be the harmonica. Even the Scots consider the bagpipes to be an instrument of torture, of warfare, its practitioners huge, red-faced farmer types who have switched from pig sticking to bagpipe playing.

Bagpipes are a strange instrument. The only reason they were invented is the Scots needed some kind of noise to rally the clans when the English crossed the border. They could have bought a bell or a whistle, but being a thrifty people they took a pig's bladder and stuck a reed in it and the rest is history. For some reason, great masses of people have mistaken bagpipes for a musical instrument.

NORRIS: John McIlWraith suffered from a form of dementia called Lewy Body disease. He is survived by his wife Dixie, four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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