It was at Cawnpore in India that William first met the MacRobert family from Aberdeen. In 1933 Lady MacRobert asked him, as the premier Scottish opera and ballad singer, to entertain the 500 guests at her son, Roderic’s 21st birthday party.
After retiring from singing whilst at the height of his powers, William decided to resume a boyhood interest in cattle breeding. He was invited by Lady MacRobert to assist in the management of her famous herds at Douneside, where he remained for over thirty years.
His picturesque figure in highland dress evoked memories of the old Clan Bards, but there was nothing old fashioned about his ideas on cattle breeding.
Under his direction, the estates produced many prizewinners at agricultural events throughout the country and his services to agriculture were recognised in 1964 when he was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland. In 1968, the Trustees of the Lady MacRobert Special Trust presented two trophies in memory of the late William Heughan. One was to be awarded to the Champion Galloway at The Royal Highland Show and the other to the best group of three heifers at the Caste Douglas Spring Show and Sale.
After Lady MacRobert’s death in 1954, William continued her work for many years improving the Highland, Friesian and Aberdeen Angus cattle breeds and winning many prizes in the showring, including supreme Aberdeen Angus at Perth in 1964 when the bull Essidium of Douneside made 54,000 guineas and went to New York.
Lady MacRobert set up the MacRobert Trust in tribute to her three RAF sons, whom she lost in the war and William was appointed Senior Trustee. He acted as host at Alastrean House to officers and cadets from Canada, America and Europe during their visits to the district, greeting them with a friendly “Welcome, laddie!”
On 10 July 1964, Aberdeen University conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws on William Heughan. It was said in the address at this occasion that “If an artist is one who combines technical skill with intuition, William Heughan was a successful practitioner of three quite dissimilar art forms:- first as a singer, then as a cattle breeder and finally a philanthropist.”
This is certainly true as Dr Heughan carried out Lady MacRobert’s wishes under the MacRobert Trust and several other charitable trusts of which he was also trustee and hundreds of donations, both large and small, were given to deserving causes. Her wish to preserve the heritage of Scottish architecture met fruition in his scheme to sponsor the restoration of houses in Old Aberdeen from the top of the Spital to the Town House, which you can see today.