Shipload of MacLeods in Long Beach : Far-Flung Clan Gathers for a Fling

Times Staff Writer

Don McLeod, 53, is a livestock consultant in Newgulf, Tex., population 250.

Karen MacLeod, 19, is a music student in Los Angeles.

The two have never met. If they do, they say, they will have an automatic affinity for one another. For besides a name differentiated by only one letter, they share a history, a heritage and a tradition.

“The McLeod family has always been very close,” said Don McLeod.


That “family” has an estimated U.S. membership of 160,000. More than 400 of them, including Don McLeod and Karen MacLeod and dozens of other McLeods and MacLeods, were on the Queen Mary in Long Beach over the weekend to assert something that their national president, Bill MacLeod, put quite succinctly: “It’s more fun to be a Scotsman in America than to be one in Scotland.”

It was the annual gathering of the Clan MacLeod Society, U.S.A., an organization dedicated to the enjoyment and preservation of a heritage that goes back 800 years, and the first national meeting the clan has held in Southern California.

Began in a Castle

It started, clan members say, in the year 1200, when a Norseman named Leod became the master of a castle called Dunvegan on the shores of the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland. His sons became known as MacLeod--or son of Leod--and thus the clan began.


Over the years the family scattered and the spellings changed. The clan has retained its basic identity, however. Today, although it is still “ruled” by a living chief who sits in Dunvegan Castle, the clan counts more members in the United States than in any other country in the world.

Nearly 1,300 of them have joined the Clan MacLeod Society, U.S.A., an organization open to anyone named MacLeod or a derivative thereof. Membership is also open to those with names traditionally linked to the MacLeods, including MacCrimmon, MacCauly, MacCaskil, Bethune, Beaton, Lewis, Tolmie and MacClure.

“There’s an element of fantasy in all of this,” said Bill MacLeod, a retired Army colonel from Stockbridge, Mich. In America, he said, one can pick and choose among colorful aspects of one’s heritage to “relieve the tedium of mass-produced culture.”

For many, the MacLeod kinship goes well beyond the realm of fantasy.


‘We Have a Responsibility’

“If you don’t know your family and its history, you lack a basic appreciation for your genetically inherited makeup and influences,” said Neil McLeod, a Los Angeles dentist and founder of the clan’s 385-member Southern California chapter. “We have a responsibility to do our part in continuing the tradition.”

For the MacLeods, tradition includes an interest in bagpipes, Scottish dance, poetry, song, genealogy and scholarship.

Much of the color and zest of that tradition was evident at the Queen Mary gathering.


During a series of events, the revelers--many wearing kilts--were treated to a medley of Scottish dances, lectures on language, history and song and a Sunday ‘Kirkin o’ the Tartan’ in the ship’s chapel, ceremoniously honoring the MacLeods’ traditional colors and signaling an end to festivities.

“I came because it’s fun and you get to drink Scotch,” said Karen MacLeod, the music student.

Of course there were problems inherent in a gathering of so many people with the same last name. As the weekend drew to a close, some of the ship’s crew were beginning to grumble. “I’m getting tired of hearing the name,” said Laura Hobbs, a cashier at the reception desk of the Queen Mary Hotel, where most of the MacLeods were staying. “Jones or Smith would be nice.”

Admitted Bill MacLeod: “Phone calls are really a problem.”