2018-01-12 / Society

Robert Burns Society celebrates 40 years

By Rachel Haynie


Presidents of Robert Burns Society of the Midlands in 1992 were back row: Doug McDonald, Joe Jenkinson, Dick Strachan, Lock McLendon (who was current president in 1992,) Becky Strachan, Ron Beaton, and Bob Rowland. Front row: Tim McKinnery, Beverly Di Thomas, and Pelham Simmons 
Photo courtesy of Myrna and Brad Beaton Presidents of Robert Burns Society of the Midlands in 1992 were back row: Doug McDonald, Joe Jenkinson, Dick Strachan, Lock McLendon (who was current president in 1992,) Becky Strachan, Ron Beaton, and Bob Rowland. Front row: Tim McKinnery, Beverly Di Thomas, and Pelham Simmons Photo courtesy of Myrna and Brad Beaton Four decades are a mere blink of an eye when compared with the enduring and colorful history of Scotland. In the Midlands those 40 years have kept together a tightly-knit group bent on keeping the culture, customs, and traditions of Scotland relevant and vibrant.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Robert Burns Society of the Midlands (RBSM) and its part of the Midlands’ cultural scene; it is also the 40th annual Robert Burns Birthday Anniversary Supper, to be repeated January 27 at Seawell’s at the Fairgrounds.

William McCullough, long-time RBSM member and Scottish country dancer, found the flyer announcing RBSM’s first meeting. The local organization, formed under the international umbrella of the World Robert Burns Federation, was founded on a November Sunday afternoon in 1977 at Keenan High School.

By the time the S.C. Secretary of State issued a charter the following May, the club had already held its first Robert Burns Supper, an occasion celebrated world-wide on the anniversary of the birth of the famous Scottish poet.

The supper has remained the pinnacle event for a growing multigenerational membership that now surpasses 150 and draws participation from counties throughout the Midlands.

The annual event has become as much a Scottish pageant as a par- taking of a meal. Bagpipes, a parade of tartans, Scottish dancers, and toasts and tributes— including the presentation of the haggis—punctuate the colorful evening.

Throughout the year other seasonal celebrations are held: a Beltane each spring, a Céilidh in summer, and a Samhain in the fall, usually near Halloween. Burns Society members participate in Kirkin’ of the Tartans worship services at Presbyterian churches wherever held within the Midlands.

“In the early years, meetings usually involved a meal, although each gathering was by no means a Burns Supper. The group met various places around town,” recounted Lois Lockhart, who has been a member since soon after the group formed.

“There were covered dish dinners at the Woman’s Club in Maxcy Gregg Park, meetings for some years at Fort Jackson, both at the Officers’ Club and the NCO Club, and later at restaurants around town.

“I recall one held at what then was the Marriott. Our first meeting was at Seawell’s on North Main Street. I believe that was in 1988. We have been holding the Burns Dinner at Seawell’s at the Fairgrounds now for at least a decade,” Lockhart recalled.

For many years the late Ron Beaton gave the Address to the Haggis in his thick Scottish brogue. Myrna Beaton, his widow, explained: “Both his parents spoke Gaelic, so English was his second language,”

Beaton, a Bostonian, came to Columbia to teach JROTC at C.A. Johnson High School following his USAF service as a navigator. Also teaching at C. A. Johnson was the late Charlotte LeGrand, another influential founding member.

Liz Simmons and her late husband Pelham were founding members. of RBSM. She remembered Pelham wore a Viking helmet with his kilt to the Burns suppers. “He was kiddingly compared to Hagar the Horrible, a character in a comic strip popular then,” Simmons said

For information on attending this year’s Burns Supper, visit to RBSM.org

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