Irene McLean: Devoted mother who worked tirelessly for charity

Obituary: Irene McLean loved a party and organised many fundraising events
Obituary: Irene McLean loved a party and organised many fundraising events
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Irene McLean, Children’s Panel member and charity worker. Born: Glasgow on 27 August 1939. Died: Dumbarton on 16 July 2017

Irene McLean, who was a tireless fundraiser for charity, has died suddenly at her home in Dumbarton, aged 77.

She collapsed and died peacefully while tending the roses planted by her late ­husband, Kenneth, at Massabielle in Dumbuck Crescent.

The armoury room at ­Dumbarton Castle was a favourite venue for Irene’s cheese and wine parties, which were always well ­supported and brought donations flowing in.

Charities ranging from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to Parkinson’s UK benefited from Irene’s good works.

She was proud of her four children and what they achieved, but well aware that many other children had a much tougher start in life.

Her role as vice-chairperson of the Children’s Panel in West Dunbartonshire gave her the opportunity to give practical help.

As president of the local branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, she organised fund-raising parties and nearly-new sales in church and community halls.

Her children, who include Pauline McLean, BBC Scotland’s arts correspondent, became used to seeing their mother’s photograph in Dumbarton’s weekly newspapers, glass in hand, celebrating another successful fundraiser.

Irene’s fellow RSPCC committee members remember her as a brilliantly efficient organiser, someone who could work out how to get three trays of vol au vents to Dumbarton Castle at an hour’s notice, or able to find a useful home for left over bric-a-brac after a bring and buy sale.

Irene’s service to the community was marked by the Lord Lieutenant with invitations to the Royal Garden Party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on two occasions in the 1980s.

Her eldest son, Michael, told the large congregation at her funeral in St Patrick’s Church, Dumbarton: “Above all, they remembered my mother’s sense of joy at being able to have a really good time, but still raise money for important charity work. It was the kind of bargain she loved – a two for one on the stuff that really matters. And something she continued throughout her life.

“She regularly spotted appeals on television which made her reach for the chequebook and she joined a family table at last year’s Ladies Lunch for Parkinson’s UK.

“Just last weekend, she was delighted to sponsor and follow the progress of her grandson David, as he cycled from London to Paris for a breast cancer charity.”

Irene McLean was born in the Saltmarket area of Glasgow on August 27, 1939, to George and Agnes McBride, who named her Irene after the Greek goddess of peace, and many early saints.

Their baby girl brought much joy, but not the peace they wished for. Within a week, war had been declared.

It meant an unsettled childhood for Irene and her brother Ian. She grew up with rationing, and had to move in ­temporarily with aunties in a safer part of the city, but she took it all in her stride – a happy, inquisitive, sociable girl, who loved meeting new ­people.

School was just one of those opportunities – Our Lady and St Francis, known by everyone who went there as Charlotte Street.

She went to Lourdes, Rome and Assisi with the school and made lifelong attachments to the pupils and teachers.

But the big Dumbarton connection was Ken McLean.

Michael said they recently discovered a beautiful letter from 21-year-old Ken to 17-year-old Irene, “full of fun, and laughter and a first declaration of love which would last six decades”.

Ken was the youngest of ­seven boys, and Irene loved her friendly extended family, not least her new sisters-in-law and on August 29, 1959, they were married in St ­Thomas’s Church in Riddrie.

Not long after, Ken found work in the finance department of the famous Hiram Walker Scotch whisky ­distillery, and the couple set up home in Dumbarton.

Irene went from working in the Post Office telephone exchange in Glasgow to jobs at a news agency; the Inland Revenue, and later as the chief invigilator of examinations at St Patrick’s High School.

She was a calm and organised voice in the Fitzgerald Owens News Agency in Church Street, Dumbarton, one of the biggest and busiest in Scotland in the 1960s.

She was the office secretary and copy taker and more importantly in charge of the petty cash. Bill Heaney – a young reporter at the time – recalled her keeping egos in check with the reminder that this was Church Street, not Fleet Street.

Michael, the first of the McLean children, was born in 1964 followed by Pauline, Claire and Kenneth.

The family home, Massabielle, at 39 Dumbuck Crescent, Dumbarton, had important connections for Irene because it had been owned previously by May Galloway, one of her teachers at Charlotte Street and was named after the grotto at Lourdes.

Michael, who gave the eulogy, said: “My mother loved a party – or any social occasion – and there were plenty of ­celebrations, from her own golden wedding in 2009, to our own weddings.

“And she loved people - so the fact that those weddings brought her two new daughters-in-law – Linda and Elise, and two new sons-in-law, Gary and Craig – was a particular delight.”

Five McLean grandchildren – Andrew, David, Hannah, John and Ben – meant even more parties.

The McLeans, who are survived by their children and grandchildren, spent their retirement travelling in Cyprus, Malta and Italy and, in 1999, they celebrated Irene’s 60th birthday by travelling to Paris on board the Orient Express.

The Requiem Mass for Irene McLean was concelebrated by Monsignor John Hughes of St Joseph’s, Helensburgh, and Father Raphael at St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, followed by final committal at Cardross Crematorium.

Bill Heaney