The family of smiling conductor Donald Dinnie have spoken publicly for the first time about the “laid back dad” who died doing the job he loved.
Donald had devoted his life to the railways – and loved nothing more than passing through a train to have a blether with passengers.
He was among three people who died in the Stonehaven derailment on August 12. He lost his life three days before his 59th birthday.
His daughter Christina said: “Dad truly was one of a kind and will never be forgotten.
“We would do anything to have him back and tell him one more time how much we all love him and miss him.”
‘He would always be smiling’
Donald was born in Torphins in 1961 to parents Edwin and Yvonne and spent most of his adult life in Westhill.
As a child, he attended Ferryhill Primary School and Harlaw Academy.
In his early working life, Donald worked on the family farm – Littletown Farm in Sauchen, near Inverurie.
He also worked at the former family chip shop – Crossroads on Crown Street, Aberdeen.
Christina said: “Then in 1983, he secured a lucky break of becoming a stoker in the railway.
“He then worked to become a conductor, then a driver.”
As much as he liked being a driver, Donald was more at home as a conductor, as Christina explained.
“Dad was too social to be stuck in the driver’s cab for hours at a time. He needed to speak to people. That was who he was – a friendly and social person. He would always be smiling,” said Christina.
Indeed, the highlight of Donald’s job was walking through the train, chatting with passengers and lending a helping hand where needed.
Christina said: “Many a time dad would come home with stories of what kind of day he had working on the trains.
“Most of the funny ones came from group parties who were travelling on the train and, dad being dad, he would be getting involved and winding them up.
“One time he came home with a pink cowboy hat and a pink sash! A hen party had been travelling that day.
“He had a happy, funny, laid back kind of character. Not much seemed to phase him.”
Donald was also extremely popular among his colleagues – not only fellow ScotRail workers but also railway staff who worked for other operators.
One of those was Allan Bence, a driver for Cross Country trains, who said: “The railway is like a family, so you get to know everyone.
“Usually, I’m on one of the ScotRail trains when I travel into work, when he would be working as a conductor, or we would often cross paths at Edinburgh Waverley or Dundee stations.
“We would usually talk about golf and had a good laugh and a blether over the years.”
“He was such a happy, upbeat person who always had a smile.”
Special badge to remember Brett, Donald and Chris
After the crash, Allan designed a special badge in memory of those who died.
Sales have so far raised £4,212, with proceeds going to the families as part of a wider fundraiser, which has raised £142,200.
Passengers and rail workers took to social media after the tragedy to pay tribute to Donald.
His colleague Rachel Wallace described how Donald was always cheerful and friendly and always had a joke to tell, while a ScotRail passenger, Mari Pollicino, recalled a train journey in which Donald stopped for a chat with her family. She said: “He was such a lovely man.”
Hundreds of people lined the streets of Westhill on August 27 as Donald’s cortege passed by on the day of his funeral.
Some in attendance wore blue ScotRail jumpers, jackets and uniforms to pay tribute to their beloved colleague.
Christina said: “Dad had worked in the railway for 37 years.
“He was well respected by both colleagues and his passengers, as we discovered from the many lovely comments posted on social media.”
Outside of work, Donald loved catching up with pals and getting exercise on the golf course.
Christina said: “Dad had many friends and he always had time for them.
“He would often be out golfing with them or nipping out to visit them for a coffee and catch up.
“His friends described him to us as a true gentleman who had a great sense of humour. They said they would miss him immensely.
“Dad was a keen golfer. It was a hobby for him and he didn’t take it too seriously.
“It got him out of the house and gave him a chance to have a walk around and also catch up with friends.
“He was a member at Nigg Bay Golf Club.”
Donald was also a keen photographer.
“You would often see him on a long walk around Aberdeenshire with his camera or catch him when he had some time to spare at work taking a few photos,” said Christina.
She added: “Even in the morning of the accident, he was taking photos of the landscape after the storm had passed.”
Donald’s family have given us permission to publish this photograph, which he took shortly before the tragedy.
‘He was such an amazing dad and would do anything for us’
Without a doubt, Donald’s greatest love was reserved for his family – partner Trish and daughters Christina, 29, and Nicole, 26.
Christina said: “Dad was very family-oriented.
“When Nicole and I were younger, he would be our taxi driver, taking us to all our out of school activities.
“I was a keen swimmer and, when I started competitive swimming, dad and I would travel all over the country to different swimming competitions most weekends.
“Dad volunteered with my club – Westhill District Amateur Swimming Club – as a parent volunteer and timekeeper and was a very familiar face among the swimming community.
“He was such an amazing dad and would do anything for us.
“Even when we left home he was there helping us out whenever he could – including rescuing Nicole from any dental or doctor appointments that involved needles, as she always fainted.”
Donald has three sisters – Karen, Elaine and Tanya.
Karen tragically died aged 59 in June.
Christina said: “Losing dad has been one of the hardest things the family has had to go through.
“It has been a difficult year in general after the sad loss of dad’s sister nine weeks prior to dad’s death.
“Having to deal with this during the Covid-19 pandemic has made it even more challenging.
“Dad will be sorely missed and has left a very large empty hole in our family dynamic.
“He was a larger than life character who you could depend on.”
Following dad’s lead
Christina thanked the emergency services who attended the crash scene and the thousands of people who have raised money in her father’s memory in recent months.
She said: “The scene was not an easy one to deal with, as we witnessed a week later on a site visit, but we know you all did everything you could.
“The donations page we started in August allowed us the opportunity to show how much we appreciated what the emergency services did.
“We were being inundated with requests for an address to send flowers and we felt that dad would prefer people to put their money towards something that will make a difference to others.
“Dad had a Direct Debit set up for Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) so it made sense to follow his lead and have the money go to them.”
The appeal raised £8,600 for SCAA.
Christina added: “We were completely overwhelmed with the number of people who donated and the grand total.
“It just reminded us how incredible dad was and how much of an impact he made on people’s lives.
“Thank you all again for taking the time to make a donation and for sending in the lovely comments.”