Appreciation: Kath Wilkie, MBE, Girl Guide leader

Kath Wilkie MBE, leading light in the Girl Guiding movement who was known as 'Auntie Kath' to many young women in Edinburgh. Picture: Contributed
Kath Wilkie MBE, leading light in the Girl Guiding movement who was known as 'Auntie Kath' to many young women in Edinburgh. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 28 December, 1922, in Walkerburn. Died: 2 June, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 92.

Kath Macintosh was born and brought up in Walkerburn, the youngest of three daughters. There she was enrolled as a Brownie and later as a Guide and as a young adult she led a group to an international camp in Norway.

From that camp she made a lasting friend who, the family remembers, introduced them to exotic cheese. And so began Kath’s lifelong interest and movement in the Girl Guide movement.

During the Second World War many Polish soldiers were stationed in the Borders and Kath enjoyed teaching them English. She served in the Waaf police and volunteered to help in London at the time of the Blitz. After the war Kath met a young man from Edinburgh – Syd Wilkie. She jokingly said that she chosen him because he had a car. They were married in December 1952 and set up home in Edinburgh, first in Silverknowes and later in Murrayfield when their family was complete with Kate, David and Pam.

Kath was quickly welcomed into Guiding in Edinburgh and was a badge secretary then district commissioner in the Barnton area. Her next appointment was as ranger adviser, which meant she was responsible for girls in the older age group. She had the happy knack of being able to talk to and befriend any age group and so she became known as “Auntie Kath” to many young women in Edinburgh.

In the 1960s Kath became assistant county commissioner and was the right person in the right place when in 1967 the Scouts invited the Guides to join them in the Gang Show – a world first. With Kath’s enthusiasm and encouragement the girls joined the cast and performed splendidly. Each evening before the show she would tour the dressing rooms to encourage all the performers and calm their nerves.

As a result of her involvement Kath was the first Girl Guide to be presented with the coveted red “necker”, thus becoming a member of “The Gang”. Those who were in the audience of the Saturday matinee of the 1972 show were treated to a special guest appearance of Kath, now Edinburgh’s county commissioner, on stage dressed as a St Trinian’s schoolgirl. She threw all her enthusiasm into the role as she screamed “Bash ’em, Bessie!”

Kath continued her support for the Gang Show over the years and was always interested in hearing news about the cast members. She was held in high regard by the gang.

In her time as county commissioner for Edinburgh there were a number of significant events, the principal perhaps being regionalisation in 1975 which saw Currie, Balerno, Kirkliston and South Queensferry units becoming part of Edinburgh Guiding. This required a great deal of organising and tact but Kath and her team welcomed the newcomers and immediately made them feel part of the County of Edinburgh.

What Kath felt was her greatest achievement was the publication in 1977 of Girl Guides – The Edinburgh Story, a hardback giving the history of nearly 70 years of Guiding in Edinburgh with a foreword written by the Duke of Edinburgh. This was launched in the Assembly Rooms at a publicity event for all units in Edinburgh called Focus on Guiding. The excitement was so great that there was almost a riot in George Street when David Wilkie, the 1976 Montreal Olympic Gold Medallist arrived to visit the event.

When Kath’s time in Edinburgh Guiding came to an end she took up an appointment in Scottish guiding as adviser for public relations.

Kath was interested in people, made and kept friends easily. She remembered faces and names and she was happy to introduce herself if she did not know someone. She was in great demand to give the Vote of Thanks at the end of a meeting.

In 1979 Sheila Heaney, the then chairman for Scotland of the WRVS, was persuaded by a friend to interview Kath as a prospective organiser for the Lothian Region. Sheila recognised Kath’s sterling worth behind the extrovert character and appointed her. Kath soon made herself at home in the organisation and proved to be a tower of strength.

She had to retire when she reached the age of 65. Since then she kept in touch with many members in Edinburgh and the Lothians. She was awarded her MBE for her work with the service. This, she said, meant “Mother Bosses Everyone”, but a friend said it meant “Mother Beloved by Everyone”.

When the WRVS chairman was asked to find someone to serve on Lothians and Borders committee of the War Widows’ Association Kath agreed to take on the extra task. It was a position she always enjoyed and she was still on the committee at the time of her death.

When ACE (Age Concern Edinburgh) introduced its IT programme for the over-50s in 2001 Kath was one of the first “silver surfers” and continued to be a supporter of the organisation. As a result of this, she was invited on to the Gary Robertson daily programme on BBC Scotland.

She was an excellent communicator and was invited fairly regularly to give her opinion on various topics. Her last recording was with her daughter Kate on BBC Radio’s Listening Project.

Friends were very important to Kath but her family came first. When her children were young she and Syd enjoyed family holidays in different seaside locations around Scotland with their caravan. When the children became adults they knew that they always had their parents’ support and approval.

After Syd died in 2011 Kath went to an evening class to study genealogy and thoroughly enjoyed finding out about her ancestors.

Kath was not a member of any church but she showed all the virtues of a Christian and lived by her Guide Promise. She was generous, she made time for people, she visited nursing homes where acquaintances were, she loved driving (her family gave her a new car for her 90th birthday) and she would drive to the other side of town to take a friend to a meeting. She was punctilious about writing letters of thanks, of sympathy or of congratulations.

Kath was a larger-than-life person so it is difficult to imagine a world without her. Those of us who have known her have been richer as a result. The large number of friends who gathered to celebrate her life was testament to the high regard in which she a held.

She is survived by her three children, Kate, David and Pam, three granddaughters and four great-grand daughters and her sister, Mollie.