Wednesday, March 27, 2013


When I was asked to offer a “memorial” for the Keith & Kin as tribute to George it brought me back to the mid 1970’s and also the realization that my relationship with George revolved almost entirely around the Clan Keith Society.  I really didn’t get to know other personal aspects of The Man though gained some special insights given our Keith Clan Society collaborations. While we did share some time while he was in Atlanta, he was also down in Lizella, Georgia and up in Nashville before eventually going back home to Bibb County in central Georgia.   

We will surely try and provide some well-documented insights by including some of George’s personal reminiscences (that’s what he called his regular e-mails) which he had been formally sharing with this writer since around the start of the new Millennium. I certainly appreciated and was honoured by his Friendship and mentoring ways. We do remind all interested members of the Keith & Kin, Second Quarter 2002 article, “The Beginning of the Society: An Interview with George Newberry” where George offered some of the details of the Society’s formative years. This piece will mirror and expand on that interview.  Our reminiscence will be more of a travelogue, a walk through time, though it does laud the Man that made Our Society happen. By the way, I never met George’s Brother John who is credited as a co-founder of the Clan. I never saw him at a Keith function, Scottish Festival or any Highland Games and that spans a thirty-two year period up until his passing in 2006.

When I heard of George’s passing this last January 8th, I went to the computer and expected to see a flood of eulogies expanding on his life and extolling the virtues of this very special man. I saw little and from my perch out here in Texas was absolutely confounded - wondering how this could happen? There were some on-line tributes (God bless those folks) and a short mention on the Stone Mountain and Grandfather Mountain Highland Games Facebook pages but little more.  We earnestly hope that both these august games will be planning tributes other than Flowers of the Forest in July and October on the occasion of their annual celebrations.  Perhaps this piece and other “reminiscences” generated by Clan Keith members can fill in the gaps and recognize George as a major player/contributor in the American Scottish Community and raise up his life as an example of one well lived.

In that same exasperated breath I realized that George was happy to ultimately work as the grand strategist and certainly was not really concerned about any ultimate “credit” for dreaming up and starting The Society.  He demonstrated humility by offering that what he did was, “the easy part.”  Given our humble beginnings at the end of the day George was happy with the result.  While that wasn’t part of his plan (more later) to remain as active for as long as he did, George was willing to stay involved so long as people sought his counsel.  We’re glad he did…  So how did I meet George?

I was born in Texas though of New England parentage and was ultimately trundled back to Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  Some of my earliest childhood memories were (we know Alice Hattenbrun would approve) my mandated attendance at Mayflower Society, SAR, DAR, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and other mostly New England organization meetings Mother dragged me to. None of them (save the NEHGS) didn’t directly relate to our Scottish lines, either the Armstrong on Dad’s side or my matrilineal Keiths.  One would think it safe to say with a degree in Anthropology and History coupled with all those pre-pubescent and juvenile genealogical jaunts that I probably had my fill. 

That wasn’t the case and when I wandered onto the Stone Mountain Highland Games (SMHG) field in 1977 and again met George Newberry - that was all the motivation I needed.  I had already telephoned Mother in Providence, Rhode Island on a SMHG pay phone (can you believe they ever existed?) and verified my Keith lines through the Reverend James Keith of Old Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  Armed with my new/old pedigree I went back to the Keith Clan Tent and engaged George Newberry in some good conversation with membership in the Keith Clan Society the result. 

The Point Here: That was the priceless gift that George gave me and untold others by opening doors and setting us off on our Quest for Family. When recruiting it was always a two-way street that found George evaluating a candidate’s worthiness for The Clan. We didn’t initially require candidates to submit their genealogy and confirm their Keith pedigree though many were aware of those details.  We always tried to discuss especially some of the more well-known Keith lines and verify important Family connections.  We were lucky in mostly attracting those with a legitimate reason and motivation to join The Society. While George downplayed his initial efforts, they were never a casual endeavor for George. George as the unintended guardian of The Name was always happy to find those with purpose and direction.

And note (please no one take offense – I didn’t) George was looking especially for those interested folks with the last name of Keith or sept names especially including Austin, Marshall, Falconer, Harvey, Dixon, Urrie, etc. and in all their myriad spellings. We long discussed that however you spell or say Newberry or Buxton, it still wasn’t Keith.  Once we were a formal group George did offer a growth strategy for The Society.  George understood the importance of attracting direct lineal descendants of the name without diminishing anybody else’s contributions. He always hoped to discover those with that, “fire in the belly” passion for The Family knowing that whatever their surname, their leadership would come to the fore for the benefit of all. It has.

If you’re interested, George was first a Marshall.  His fraternal great-grandmother was Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Marshall (1840–1910) and the source of much of his Keith pride. Mollie’s grandfather John Marshall (1758-1838) moved from North Carolina probably in the late 1700’s to early 1800’s to Georgia and we suspect shortly before that his Family occupied the auld sod. George also embraced strong Dickson and Keith ancestors.    

Once The Society was formed and ongoing, George appreciated the public relations and marketing aspect of a selective membership process that also considered where the organization was going to be twenty years, fifty years or more down the road. George as a visionary who understood succession planning vigorously approved our Youth Organization commenting, “We must look toward the future and cultivate a group that will continue our work. We must be constantly on the lookout for those who are of the caliber that we need. We need to begin to cultivate a new generation who will be able to take their place and represent The Clan Keith as it should be represented.”  We discussed the potential for the sons, daughters, nieces and nephews of current members capable of assuming future responsibilities in their maturity.  George was not looking for numbers, rather members who could, “interact with the leaders of other Clan Societies and present a positive image of our society.”

George once remarked that, “The Society was a child of my creation”, certainly an understatement where he literally nailed the truth.  He came up with the idea, nurtured it and put in place the mechanism and the people that would make it work.  He personally paid for our incorporation, name registration and countless other fees and never sought recognition for his work or those deeds.  Indeed, when the idea of a Founders Trophy was first broached George made sure that Society officers understood that he didn’t want the recognition or his name on The Trophy, rather recommending other early pioneers that followed.  Ultimately, it was agreed that nobody’s names would be reflected.  As we mentioned earlier, George never sought in any form or fashion, glory or recognition and actually intended to make his contributions, fade into the sunset and then let others take up the gauntlet.

Let’s pause for a second and make a point that was critical to the evolution of the Clan and demonstrated George’s dedication, persistence and, yes, great intellect.  Please remember that we didn’t have ready and easy access to information back in the 1960’s and 1970’s except via books, research papers, academia and the source documents themselves.  What were then considered “sophisticated” PC’s were not available until the mid-1980’s and they really weren’t “connected”.  Commercial Internet service providers began to emerge in the late 1980s with the creation of the World Wide Web in 1989 and then all the data we see now had to be made accessible. That really didn’t happen until around 1995.  Point: All the research George engaged was manual with researchers and genealogists literally perusing documents character by character. It was a laborious and time consuming process that was especially cumbersome if the data reposed in a geographically distant land like Scotland. You had to know your history, all the obvious and especially the subtle connections and then have the resources to physically pursue that information.  You couldn’t just Google your subject or access a family tree via like we do today.  That effort alone distinguishes George and his contributions to our Family.  

George was a passionate and inveterate reader, scholar and possessed a strong sense of Family no doubt stimulated by his associations with his own Newberry Clan in Lizella.  George grew up with a great sense of Family and when he discovered his Keith roots, he ran right at them. He read the Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Highlands of Scotland by Frank Adam and Sir Thomas Innes of Learney who was Lord Lyon from 1945 to 1969. This work was long considered the Bible of the history of The Highlands and defined some of the traditional Clan relationships including that of the Keiths and Clan Chattan.  Therein lies the key to our formation.  

With George’s interest thusly piqued, he went to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (GMHG) in 1969 and joined the Clan Chattan Confederation as a life member in Scotland.  George became close Friends with Hughston McBain of McBain of Marshall Field and Company fame who was the 21st Chief of Clan MacBean/McBain of the Clan Chattan Confederation.  It was Hughston who for years sponsored the Clan tent at GMHG that encompassed all of the Clan Chattan to include the McBains, Mackintoshs, MacPhersons, MacGillivrays, Farquharsons and Davidsons among others that at that time also included the Keiths.  Hughston had taken many of these same Clans under his wing and certainly was a key in their formation in the United States.  It was always assumed that the Keiths as the original Catti were part of Chattan though some historians now debate this issue. As George pointed out there was no doubt in the person of George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal who declared himself to Duncan McPherson as, “being of the same origin” when joining the army of the Earl of Mar who led the unsuccessful 1715 Jacobite rising.

It is a surety that the Keiths, The Clan of The Cat, and certain of the Chattan Clans especially including the MacPhersons and Mackintoshes were very close and even connected by blood.  Certainly Hughston McBain thought so especially as his wife was a Keith, hence George’s close involvement with Chattan for many years.  When Hughston passed in 1978 it was George who took the initiative and sponsored the Chattan tent at the GMHG providing the hospitality for all the Chattan Clans.  I remember George noting that J. T. McPherson probably signed up more members for the Keiths than he did!

George became close Friends with many members of the Clan Mackintosh to include Chief W. E. “Dode” McIntosh (1893-1991) President Emeritus of Clan Mackintosh (USA) and the last principal High Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Indian Nation (1961-1971) who along with son Chinnubbie and daughter Willie Lee were frequent guests at Clan Keith tents around the country.  The late Chief Dode played a key role in the early years of our society by coming to our tent and entertaining our membership and guests. There is no doubt that hundreds of photos were taken of children with Dode wearing his plains headdress, ribbon shirt and Mackintosh or Muscogee tartan kilt. Son Chinnubbie, a retired Muscogee Judge, was made an honorary member of Our Society. Indeed, when Chief Dode passed in 1991 one of his two war bonnets was bequeathed to this writer and will ultimately repose in the Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City for all to appreciate.  Given their respect and sense of community with George, these Magnificent McIntosh created a lot of interest and focus on the Keiths. George and many other Keiths including this writer were paid the ultimate compliment by earning honorary membership in Chief Dode’s aristocratic Wind Clan. 

So even while we shared space with Clan Chattan and their associated Clans at Grandfather we evolved as an entity simply known as “The Keiths” as early as 1970, then as a separate society as early as 1972 though for several years thereafter still as a loose amalgamation of interested kin.  George continued to create interest in the Keiths and later with the very able assistance of Linton Keith, James Keith Falconer, Hughston McBain and yours truly, George started building the organization designating those that we trusted in local, state and regional offices.

George by that time was engaged in all levels of the Scottish American community.  He was a Co-Founder the St. Andrew’s Society of Atlanta, Director of the Atlanta Burns Club, Founder of the Stone Mountain Highland Games (1973), indeed, Treasurer and the financial guy (also his vocation) until the early 1980’s when he was retired to Emeritus status. We can also note that the Keiths had a SMHG Clan tent at their inaugural in 1973 setting up with the Chattan in 1974 when Hughston McBain came to town and then every year thereafter as the Clan Keith Society. George made that happen while being a well-known and respected patron and benefactor of many Georgia organizations.

George was always proud of the fact that members of The Clan Keith Society had substantially supported the SMHG even paying for their incorporation and the filings of their 501c-3 and instituting the funding of the Bobby Jones Scholars Exchange Program between Emory University and St. Andrews University in Scotland – the raison d'être for the SMHG. George noted that the Bobby Jones Estate contributed the lion's share for the exchange program even agreeing to cover any games losses for a period. The first SMHG Guest of Honor was none other than the late Lachlan Ronald Duncan Mackintosh, OBE, 30th Chief of Mackintosh who only accepted the invitation because of entreaties by many Keith and Clan Chattan members (especially George) and said as much when he acknowledged the invite.  George was a guest of The Mackintosh at Moy Hall and later described Lachlan Mackintosh as, “one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known.” Now that was quite a compliment coming from one who was the consummate gentleman. We should note that George mostly used the plural we when describing our efforts but truth be known, it was mostly because of George’s efforts and sphere of influence.

By the mid 1970’s we also had a Keith Clan tent at Grandfather which found George running to and from the Chattan tent.  By 1979 we were all running back and forth as we were all inevitably and totally involved in The Community, off and on the field. That Community included representation at many Scottish festivals, highland games and organizations across the country and even into Canada. Seems even more appropriate to note that the GMHG who provided the venue for our founding honored George as a Distinguished Guest in 2002.

Having mentioned Jim Falconer as one of our early members let it be known with George’s blessings that Jim Falconer’s widow Anna Mae was the first woman to march in the Stone Mountain Highland Games Parade of Tartans.  Anna Mae marched at the front of a rather large Keith contingent smiling and strutting proudly while other participants and spectators wildly and loudly applauded.  Everybody understood the significance of that bold act and from that point women, heretofore forbidden to participate, marched in the SMHG parade.  That was a special moment and George made that happen.

As a good example of George’s management abilities he broke this writer in, gradually first as Georgia Commissioner then Director of the Southeastern Region from 1979 to 1981 while serving as Editor of the Keith & Kin from 1980 to 1984 (those were interesting manual cut and paste days of a bygone era). George pressed Thomas M. Keith into service as the first Editor of the Keith & Kin taking full advantage of his many years in the newspaper business. Then for me it was on to President and then Director. And so it went as with the many others that George counseled and mentored. George was always there when we needed him.

While George early on never contemplated the formation of a clan society with the formal organization we have now, he thought to establish a relationship with Scotland and those few Keiths in the United States. There were no other Keith Societies in North America or Scotland and the Council of Scottish Clan Societies and Associations (COSCA) wasn’t founded until 1976.  We need note that COSCA founder Dr. Herb MacNeal (who was a founder of the Clan McNeil Association) and wife Ethel became good friends with George and this writer.  We and other Keiths became active in COSCA Including Alexander “Sandy” Marshall who served as COSCA’s second President.
George came up with the idea for the Bond of Manrent really on a whim and as he has reflected “improvised” as he went along. He understood the historical significance of the bond and was really saying to Scotland,“Here we are.” He actually (and correctly) sent the petition to Ethel Sydney Keith-Falconer, 11th Countess of Kintore, not realizing that she had passed on that September of 1974 at age 100. However, soon thereafter George received a favorable response from the 12th Earl of Kintore, Sir James Ian Keith who assumed the title of 12th Earl of Kintore on his Mother’s passing.
George was always quick to point out (and I will heartily second) that Sir James Ian Keith, 12th Earl of Kintore was, absolutely, the key in the continuing emergence of The Society.  Kintore, likewise, reflected to this writer his high regard and respect for George Newberry.  Lord Kintore was an unflappable, erudite and tireless advocate for The Name of Keith and took his responsibilities seriously.  Upon his visit as the Honoured Guest at SMHG in 1980 he formally granted The Society complete autonomy though in practice and theory he had allowed us to operate on that basis from the very beginning.  Bond or not, he would have supported our efforts.  Few people knew then or now that while the Kintore’s 1980 SMHG trip would surely have been subsidized, the 12th Earl personally funded his trip to and from Atlanta in 1980, politely declining our assistance.

We note that both Lord Kintore and Countess Delia had a great (no incredible) sense of humor which they wonderfully demonstrated in their everyday lives and he especially so on the occasion of his WSB Radio interviews while in Atlanta in 1980 and then again in 1982 on the occasion of the International Gathering. George commented that the 12th Earl was probably the most popular and most appreciated Guest of Honor ever at the SMHG. George wondered how many of our current members have seen the now famous Scotch whisky ad that featured Lord Kintore in his so familiar district check kilt jacket along with another chief whose name neither us could recall. Or how about the radio interview where Kintore recalled the secret to success and how to become an Earl? Kintore like George had real spirit. 

While we all got along well it soon became apparent that a liaison was needed in order to further represent Kintore’s interests in the Clan Keith Society and that’s how the Lieutenant to the Chief idea was born.  George had first heard about the position which was mentioned in a book authored by the Lord Lyon, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney though was quick to ultimately give the Clan Hay credit for implementation of the idea.  George always pointed out and constantly reinforced that the Lt. to the Chief position, “was never intended to have any say so over the Clan Society… that the position was simply ceremonial with the management of the Society left to The Society’s elected officers.”  In 1977 Kintore commissioned George Newberry as his Lieutenant to the Chief.  Tom Keith eventually took over as Lt. to the Chief from George until he later relinquished the post in 1987 to the present Lt. to the Chief, Darrell Keith.

In 1978 the 12th Earl signed the now famous "Covenant of Friendship for All Time" with Clan Gunn cementing an already strong relationship among old adversaries.  While George was one of the main facilitators of the Treaty between the Keiths and Gunns, he had some fun throughout the whole process expressing some regret with its signing in 1978 commenting, “I do not see it as a milestone in the advent of our Society.  I enjoyed the feud.”  George, of course, made that comment somewhat tongue in cheek and was testament to his mischievous side.  Note that George was the first Keith to be made an honorary life member of Clan Gunn and like this writer was Friends with Donald Williamson and others of their ilk to include the then and now Gunn Chief, Commander Iain Alexander Gunn of Banniskirk and wife Bunty (her real name is Aline, like my grandmother).  Sandy Marshall and Ned Buxton were ultimately also privileged as the only other Keiths to receive honorary life memberships in the Clan Gunn and like George were privileged to march in many a Parade of Tartans with the Gunns given the absence of any Keiths.  In the early years that was de rigueur. Several of us to include piper Mike Wilson can wear both the Keith & Austin and Gunn tartans. Likewise, Bob Swanson and other eminent members of Clan Gunn have received their Keith pedigrees.

An aside: Because of the doors opened by George our relationships with the Gunns flourished. We take special note that Peter Blum, a Gunn and master tinsmith in the Moravian tradition at Old Salem in North Carolina fashioned the wall sconces for the renovation of the Keith Parsonage in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Their installation was under the watchful eye of Evelyn Keith Nourse of the Old Bridgewater Historical Society and the Clan Keith Society.

So while the Keiths had clan tents from 1972 on we had but a few folks to man them as would be the case for just about all of our early years.  While we didn’t embarrass ourselves and evolved our displays, we were nowhere near engaging the award winning outstanding presentations and great hospitality of today’s Clan Keith Conveners all across the country, witness the awards we have from Glasgow, Loch Norman, Silver Springs, Dixon and many, many more Scottish Festivals and Highland Games.  Given the evolution of our own capacity to provide hospitality to others, George wanted us to acknowledge forever and a day the contributions of Hughston McBain of McBain and the Clan Chattan for their initial and continued support and hospitality.
We Keiths have come a long way thanks to George Newberry.  We’ve always been winners even in those early days that required folks like George and the early founders to be at several places at the same time – first involved at the tent then running to an event or function, then back, then off again.  George always wanted to acknowledge and thank those significant others that “accompanied” those happy and dedicated few, but ended up doing much of the job representing the Clan Keith Society.  We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

George first made things happen on the local level providing what was for some the start of their journey while for others, a destination.  With his approach everything meshed by design and, yes, serendipity into a much bigger plan – the creation and perpetuation of the Clan Keith Society US.  At least half of that work has now been done and not without a great deal of intrigue and visceral politics that, thankfully, are part of our distant past.  It appeared that we had to pass through those portals to become the healthy and respected group we are today. The other 50% of that task including the perpetuation and refinement of The Society remains and that work in progress is up to us.

Would we have a Clan Keith Society were it not for George Newberry?  Probably, but not in the same form and dynamic substance and with a much later start that would find us still catching up.  We are in a position of great strength in Our Society today because George saw the potential in all of us in that time and space and understood how to accomplish those goals. As the generous, mentoring, consummately intuitive, Family Driven (Aye, Southern) Gentleman of great intellect and persuasion, he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.  George shared his vision and empowered us.  He figured out how to put together what is now one of the most important cultural components in our Community – the Clan Keith Society – sealing our place in the pantheon of Scottish Clans.  Every time we meet and greet each other, step onto that Scottish field or attend a cultural event we perpetuate his legacy and memory and are the better for having done so.

We miss you and thank you George.  God bless and well done.


Ned Buxton
Clan Keith Society

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