Saturday, January 23, 2010


I got a call today at work. It was Her Royal Majesty, Queen Helga of the Kingdome of Räknar aka Jeanette Swanson of Birmingham, Alabama. Jeanette forwarded the sad news that Nathan Ellis “Mad Max” McDougald had passed in his sleep yesterday (1/20/2010) in Gainesville, Florida. No details, just that Max was gone and the world now a little bit lighter and worse off… The energy that was Max in his fifty years (11/30/59) had now passed to another realm though surely some remained in the memory and essence of his Friends. His zest for and pursuit of life and celebration of Friends, Family and Scottish Heritage is a remarkable story and legacy. He adopted us all though generally on his own terms and even that loyalty sometimes scared the hell out of us. He was bigger than life (like his heart) and while just being himself would have been good enough to allow him free passage anywhere he chose to go, he sometimes chose another more difficult path. He pressed the flesh with Generals, CEOs and bottle washers and they all loved him.

Max’s passing isn’t going to allow him the courtesy of a celebratory (wink & nod) whitewash where we won’t speak ill of the dead. The great example that Max McDougald’s life provides is a lesson and legacy that Max would want told. Max was human and earlier cluttered his and our landscape with the excess baggage of his fantasies and sore angst in his attempt to belong to and be something he was not. Several of us have known his real story and first and foremost, that included the iconic Robert “Hägar” Swanson who first gave him a second life and mentored him in the Scottish American Community.

Max finally admitted to several folks that certain aspects of his past were embellished, exaggerated and just not true and pledged that he would cease and desist and clarify when he could. Though I have been out of the southeast for the last six years I understand that he never broke that pledge.

Max always seemed to choose that path less traveled and his persona preceded him – usually as the gravelly voiced, topless, kilted bear of a Man with a Viking horned helmet carrying a big two handed Scottish Claymore and battleaxe while marching with his MacDougall Clan, his adopted Family-The Kingdome of Räknar, the Gunns and several other Clans where he was called Friend and always welcomed. He cut quite a swath at many a Highland Games and Parade of Tartans and for many represented that edgy faux Barbarian who yearned and dreamed of a less civilized time (don’t we all?).

You never really knew what Max was going to do or what other great implement he was going to carry as in his always incredibly generous mode, he gifted many of his possessions away… including the handcrafted, hand forged, huge, very heavy and now legendary double bladed battle axe that he often carried and ultimately gifted to me. If sharpened it could easily cleave a man in two. It remains dull though still very impressive and one of my prized possessions.

Scottish Highland Wrestling aka Cumberland or Cumbrian Wrestling was among his many talents and I don’t know anyone who ever mastered him. He was big and very, very strong with a natural and intuitive inclination towards the sport. With the proper handling and instruction he probably could have excelled at Greco-Roman wrestling even on the Olympic level. He did participate and win championships at many a Scottish Highland Games. While some thought Max might bask in his sometimes almost super human accomplishments and championships, he downplayed and eschewed the olive wreath. What medals and trophies he won (they were legion) he usually gifted to the children he met along the way.

Max eventually gravitated towards the Highland Games Children’s activities especially the wrestling events. He was active at several Scottish Highland Games in this capacity including the Grandfather Mountain and Glasgow Highland Games. That may be how he will be remembered by most in the American Scottish Community.

In the Scottish Community if you as a child, amateur or professional athlete intend to participate in a Scottish Athletic event you are encouraged to wear the kilt. Indeed, now at most Scottish Highland Games and especially those where I was Director of Scottish Athletics all Athletes, Judges and Gilles were required to wear the kilt. No kilt, no play. On at least one occasion, that kept legendary strongman Bill Kazmaier off the Stone Mountain Highland Games field. If former World’s Strongest Man competitor Bill Dunn could wear the kilt, then so should Kaz. Well, Max thought that everybody should have the opportunity to participate in this culturally unique set of events and sought to enrich those experiences and rectify this sometimes obstacle. He was an excellent teacher and his Highland Wrestling classes were always filled with enthusiastic, attentive and beaming students. They were being taught by the master…

Max set up a program with organizations and individuals so that they could donate kilts for use by his kids and later young or aspiring amateur Scottish Athletes at Highland Games competitions. I remember his own clan MacDougall Society donated a child’s kilt in their tartan and with the embroidered motto, “To Conquer or Die." We are assured that young competitors wearing this kilt have made quite an impression on the field of honor. In this way Max encouraged many a youngster while reminding them of their Scottish Heritage. Max loved children and they loved him. In all of his competitions he always saw that each and every child was recognized for their labors. Max’s efforts did not go unnoticed and he was laudably commissioned a Kentucky Colonel.

In light of his contributions The Kingdome of Räknar where he had served for many years as the Keeper of Order and High Sheriff at their now famous “Raids” felt that Max should be raised to higher Honour by way of a more dignified and illustrious title by creating him the Earl of Karolina, “with all the pre-eminences, privileges, precedencies, honours, and all other things belonging or appertaining to the state of Earl of Karolina.” The Räknar proclamation continued thusly, “Max's heritage and his roots from the Gael and the Norse is shown in his personality and demonstrated on the Field of Honour where he has engaged countless hours of toil for the education and enjoyment of our bairns and the future leaders of Our Kingdome. Max has controlled and directed his great strength by teaching the cunning and tradition of Highland Wrestling and now organizes and judges those events at many Highland Gatherings."

Max no doubt was one of those “Most Unforgettable Characters” endearing himself to many in and out of the Scottish American Community. Author Romilly Squire of Rubislaw of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs and probably the top heraldic artist in the world designed a personal Coat of arms for Max. Mark John Harden of Cowdenknowes. Baron of Cowdenknowes created Max as his Sergeant at Arms. It goes on….

Max became one of the iconic figures of the always eclectic and fun loving Norse/Scots Kingdome of Räknar. As the Keeper of Order he was by extension the High Protector of the Royal Family of Räknar which includes this writer. Max always took his job seriously with Bob Swanson scared for some time to say anything derogatory about anyone in Max’s presence for fear he might intercede… I always paid Max a Scottish Shilling for his efforts in my behalf and he always gloried in showing me his ever accumulating stash from his efforts over the years. He never spent or gave away one of those coins…

While Max in an earlier life was guilty of procrastinating and embellishing on the truth - that same truth be told, it wouldn’t have mattered. He would have been accepted as an equal in every corner and I think he understood that in the end. At his worst and best, Max was our good Friend and he truly loved and protected us and we reciprocated. Sometimes it was as if he was assuming the mantle of protector in order to shield us from harm. Max surely paid a terrible and embarrassing price for his indiscretions but he did it with humility, dignity and a rededicated positive service to his Family, Friends and all the members of his community. It took great courage, strength, and determination for Max to rise above his past.

The following prayer is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and was used in this Sunday’s service at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, Texas. We have just learned that Max in his final months was even with his meager funds buying and then distributing clothing and blankets to the poor and homeless in Gainesville, Florida. It seemed to me that Max was revisiting and living these words and in doing so setting a credible example for us all.

Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me bring your love,
Where there is injury your pardon Lord,
And where there's doubt true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there's despair in life, let me bring hope,
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there's sadness, ever joy.
O Master grant that I may never seek,
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Max is and will remain my Friend till the end of time. He found forgiveness and absolution from most while he was alive and my counsel for those others is to let it all go for fear that they may forever remain in a quagmire of anger and pain. And that’s what Max taught us – that if you do screw up there is always a chance of pardon and redemption and that despite our faults and humanity we should always strive to understand our fellow Man and find peace by demonstrating compassion and granting forgiveness.

Those that were able to find the strength to do so were rewarded with a Friendship, loyalty and an allegiance they will probably never, ever experience (again?)… The mold is broken… Max is now in Valhalla with Bob Swanson, Fat Duncan, Ed Manson, John Morrison, John MacLeod of MacLeod, Ralph Payne, Tom Raisbeck, Jamie MacKenzie-Frye, George MakGill, Danny Potter, Bill Matthews, Kenn Maxwell, Tom Dowd, Richard Gammon, Bob Southerland, My Friend Carl and all the other Heroes of Räknar, perhaps being offered some mead by a Valkyrie - or two…


Ned Buxton


David Laws said...

Lay down your arms, your watch is over. You served well and long. Stand down my friend, stand down. Others will take up the guard, though none can truly take your place, and none shall try. Go play with Paks, she needs a rough and tumble playmate. Even though you never met him, GS Edward T (aka Blackbeard) (my service dog in training) shed a tear for ya.

I will never forget my first meeting with Max. At the SMHG, after hearing for some time about this legend of a (teddy) bear of a man, my first encounter was memorable for me. This wild and wooly character came out of nowhere to hug my escort (Elaine B.) and lift her off the ground to the cries of 'MAX!' My children's eyes grew big and round at the sight of this. They still remember the meeting as well. Dawson still speaks of the time he got to stay with Max in NC for a short period.

I will miss you Max, surely we all will. Fair winds and following seas, my friend.

Caroline said...

Add David Ross to your list of those at Valkyrie raising a drink - getting older means adding more and more names to that list.

diana sharpe said...

Mad Max will be truly missed by the Sharpe clan. My boys wrestled under his instruction. They are saddened by his passing. May he find peace.

Anonymous said...

What a fitting tribute. I've always heard that you have a way with words and now I know it to be true.

Sherry Morrison

eric said...

Well spoken tribute. Max meant a lot to my young son as he came up in the Highland wrestling community.

Foibles aside, he had the heart of a warrior poet and a love for encouraging our children that I will never forget.

Godspeed, Max.

- Eric Bullard

Gellis McDonald said...

Max.. where ever you may be...know that many of your brothers wait you on that far shore. May the steeds of Manannan ride you over, and may you be embraced into the great halls of the Warriors you so admired. I light a candle for your passing and to light your way. Guard us all from the other side, and with hope you will greet us when our time comes.
Give my love to "Danny Boy".
Blessings -- Ginger Webb Stevens of Pictou.

Anonymous said...

I believe thats my dad.

I cannot believe he is gone? How can that be?

LeeAnna Rose McDougald said...

This man was my father. He will be loved and well missed by his children.

American Highlander said...

Hi, Ned!
I found this by accident looking for pictures of Max to show some people where I work. Thanks!