Abrasive and divisive, Donald Trump’s personality often blots out his family history.

He is the grandson of a German migrant, Friedrich Trump, and his mother was born Mary Anne MacLeod in 1912 on the Isle of Lewis.

Trump’s journey to the White House has been one of controversial privilege but Mary Anne’s life story is the American Dream.

She rose from poverty on the edge of Europe to millionaire riches in New York, transforming herself from domestic servant to suburban goddess in the Land of the Free.

Donald Trump (left) with his parents and siblings
 

I first traced Mary Anne’s journey for the Daily Record and now for a BBC Alba documentary which will be broadcast next Tuesday.

Exploring the Trump family history, I came across another story, the friendship between two young Scottish girls, forged in the 20s, lost in the trauma of war and beautifully rekindled in the twilight of their lives.

The friendship of Mary Anne and Agnes Stiven, her teenage penpal from Dundee, helped shape an intimate portrait of the young woman who would become the president’s mother.

Mary Anne’s roots are in the village of Tong, three miles from Stornoway, from where the 17-year-old left for a new life in America in the late 20s.

She is still fondly remembered in Tong, where Trump’s cousins live quiet lives, politely refusing to discuss their famous relative.

Agnes Stiven with Mary Trump (right)

But it was in Leatherhead, Surrey, that I met Cathy Brett, Agnes Stiven’s grandaughter.

From her grandmother’s memoir, Cathy helped piece together the untold story of the president’s mother.

The two girls struck up a deep friendship, swapped photos and letters and met in Glasgow before Mary Anne sailed to America.

The memoir Agnes wrote in later life disproves the Trump family myth, that Mary Anne had gone to New York “on holiday” to visit her sister who was settled there.

She was an economic migrant and Agnes’s pictures of Mary Anne setting off for America tell the whole migrant story.

Mary Anne and Agnes met up in 1934, as the Lewis girl, who was on a visit home, prepared to sail from Glasgow back to New York to be with her fiancé Fred Trump.

The two had met at a party in Queens and she declared him “the most eligible bachelor in New York”.

Agnes Stiven on her way to Germany

In marriage, Mary Anne becomes the ghost in the many Donald Trump biographies, his life dominated by his controlling father.

She brought up five kids in Queens as her husband and then second son Donald scaled the heights of property development.

His mother’s influence, he claims, gave him his sense of showmanship. And certainly Mary Trump looked the part of a grand dame in later life, with the minks and coiffed hairstyles.

She never forgot her Gaelic roots, though, and came home to Lewis regularly.

“She never looked down on Tong,” said Alice MacKay, one of the villagers. “You’d never know on Mary Anne that she had ever left the village.”

Just as Mary Anne sailed for America, her friend Agnes made for Germany, where she met and married a fellow student.

In World War II, Agnes found herself bombed by her own country and in 1945 she crawled from the rubble with her two children to greet liberating US troops. The war was over but so was her marriage.

She made a tearful return to Dundee and later moved to England with her family, her past connections lost.

That was until Donald Trump, by then a Manhattan big wheel with a taste for publicity, stepped in.

Donald Trump visited the house where his mother grew up before she emigrated to the US

An elderly Agnes was watching TV one night in 1995 while Selina Scott interviewed the New York property mogul.

As usual, Trump couldn’t help boasting. He’d built the tallest high-rise in Manhattan, Trump Tower, and the interview was taking place in the 65th-floor apartment belonging to his mother, originally from Scotland.

The camera caught an elegant lady with bouffant hair, who spoke only briefly. It was enough.

Agnes was astonished. She wrote in her memoir: “I knew from the way she folded her knees that she was my Mary”.

 

The next day, Agnes wrote to Mary Anne, care of Trump Tower, New York, enclosing copies of the precious photos to prove she was no imposter. Mary Anne wrote back immediately: “I never gave up looking for you.”

After 60 years, the friends were reunited.

Mary Anne never saw her son become president . She died in 2000 but her daughter MaryAnne Barry maintained the Lewis connection with an island hospice in her mother’s name.

Agnes died two years later but not before penning a memoir of her life and her friendship and passing on the photos that gave us an unique insight into the life of the young islander who would become a president’s mother.