Now in its 19th year, The Annual National Tartan Day Award is presented every year on 6 April, as part of Tartan Day, the nationally recognised event celebrating the Scottish American community. The award is presented to a member of the community in recognition of outstanding work to sustain and grow the Scottish diaspora. Gus Noble, this year’s winner, perfectly embodies the spirit of the award.
Born in Dundee and raised in the Scottish Borders, Gus studied at the University of Stirling before moving to Chicago in 1992, where he lives with wife Aisha and sons Bobby (5) and Langston (2). He is now the President of the Chicago Scots and the Chief Executive of the Society’s Caledonian Senior Living and Memory Care.
The Chicago Scots was actually the first charity established in the state of Illinois. Scots founded it in 1845 when the city was still just a frontier outpost of 12,000 people. The mission in those early days was clear and simple: ensure that no deserving person in need would go without food, shelter or medical attention. It’s a mantra that they’ve lived by ever since, and is in part what gave rise to the Caledonian Senior Living and Memory Care.
From day one, the aim was to bring something of Scotland – of home – to Chicago. Gus believes that creating the feeling of being at home with family is fundamental to the loving care that their centre provides. And, having now spent more than half his life in Chicago, Gus has observed at first hand that the USA and Scotland are almost as family, bound by deep-rooted ties.
“Home is the word I most often hear from residents, staff, families, and visitors – and that’s very reassuring. We want to honour the preferences, passions and purposes of the people who live, work and volunteer in our building, and get to know our residents on a very personal level”.
Gus explains that in the Society’s long history, there are countless heroes who, by their acts of selfless service, made their mark on its history. Today, in the people who live and work at the home, now almost eight months into Covid-related lockdown, he recognises the same defining, heroic spirit shining through.
Naturally, the home has been on the front line of the pandemic. Gus explains that their philosophy has been ‘cautious and careful’. He implemented an advanced state of lockdown in March, alongside one of the most robust senior care testing regimes in Illinois. There is a well-stocked inventory of PPE, and a commitment to best practices and monitoring the very latest guidance from health experts.
It’s a system that has seen incredible levels of success, and the facility has not had a single case of coronavirus amongst its residents. Gus’s selfless commitment is echoed by his colleague and fellow Chicago Scot, Dawn Miller:
“This has been a scary time for us, but Gus’s leadership has been resolute. We have maintained an impeccable record of safety throughout this crisis, and there has been not one Covid case among our residents – zero. He is regularly on the premises until midnight, even moving in for two weeks at one point, to ensure staff commitment to high levels of personal safety are maintained. He is the real deal - so inspiring!”
The concept of building lasting connections resonates outside the care home too, in the many other activities the society promotes – and fundraising also continues to be a priority. The latest initiative is the Heroes for Heroes series of Scottish Heroes portraits by family friend David Lee Csicsko, who designed the Christmas decorations for the Obama White House.
When Covid resulted in the cancellation of the Society’s annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games, there was real concern that many would suffer from severed connections. Not content to let this happen, Gus led the way in ensuring that the event became one of the first Highland Games in America to be delivered virtually.
“I’ve seen grandparents and grandchildren hand-in-hand, making a connection that resonates beyond their generations. We were keen to maintain those feelings, so we pivoted and met on the Bonnie Banks of Loch Cyberspace. We turned the event into an opportunity to hear and learn about the roots, traditions and features of Highland Games, and to get to know some of the personalities that make our Games such unique experiences”.
When he isn’t dedicating his time to the ongoing fight against the pandemic, Gus has other, equally important issues close to his heart that he is keen to address. For example, the subject of racial equality is another item Gus places high on the agenda at the home, where the team are of all ages, genders, colours, and creeds.
Gus is quick to assert that, just as Covid attacks our senior citizens, systemic racism attacks our people and our principles. Instead of giving in to hate and prejudice, Gus firmly believes that, if we wish to live in harmony, we must all listen to all voices within our communities. This is an ideal that is shared by his wife, Aisha, who is of African-American heritage.
Openness and inclusivity are core tenets of Scottish lifestyle, and while we know that there is still a lot of work to do on these issues, Scotland is a country that prides itself on its dedication to create a truly fair and equal society. In fact, Aisha points out that there are times, when visiting Scotland with her family, that she feels as at home here as she does back in the United States.
“My experience of Scotland as an African-American woman is that I have always been welcomed with open arms. I love the people, the land, the humour, the poetry and the food. The warm welcome I receive makes Scotland a natural second home for me. Diversity is an important value that’s being nurtured in Scotland and it shows. When I'm there, I am accepted, respected and loved. I feel at peace”.
When asked about a special place in Scotland that he always comes back to, Gus says that North Berwick is a clear winner. It’s here that he has countless boyhood memories, including fish and chips by the harbour, hunting for crabs on the beach, and above all, the iconic Bass Rock.
When his first son was born, he even painted a mural on his bedroom walls: the Chicago skyline on one side, the Bass Rock on the other, and gannets flying from Scotland to Chicago, connecting the two.
“My grandfather used to say ‘I’ve been around the world four times and there is nowhere finer than North Berwick’ – and I couldn’t agree more. The word I use most often to describe Scotland is ‘authentic’. It’s a nation of opposites, but in the most genuine way. Ancient and modern. Reverent and irreverent. A country of vastly different, multicultural people bound together by shared values, but unafraid to question itself”.
As far as National Tartan Day goes, Gus sees it as an opportunity to recognise and strive to live up to the best qualities of Scotland and its people. Though the pandemic makes a large-scale celebration impossible, Gus points out that that we Scots are nothing if not inventive, and we’re fond of a party, so the celebrations are being re-imagined.
“The history of the Chicago Scots is defined by incredible people, so on National Tartan Day, we will take a journey through the people, purposes, tragedies and triumphs that have marked the Society’s 175 year history’’ he says. We will raise a good dram to toast heroes past and present, and look toward a future that is every bit as enthralling!”
Sounds good to us, Gus – Slàinte Mhath (cheers)