Obituary: Anne Mathewson, ran Clifton Hall School in Edinburgh

Anne Mathewson obit
Anne Mathewson obit
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Anne Mathewson. Born: 6 March 1932 in Edinburgh. Died: 26 February 2017 in Edinburgh, aged 84

Anne Mathewson, who died on 26 February 2017 aged 84, for 21 years ran Clifton Hall School, Newbridge with her late husband George. In the 1970s, at a time when private education was under sustained political attack, they both believed that the best response was for private schools to widen their appeal to people from all backgrounds and they were always pleased to welcome children who were the first of their family to be privately educated.

Elizabeth Anne Whitelaw was born in Edinburgh in 1932, the elder of two daughters of Arthur Whitelaw, a Leith accountant, and Sybil née Graesser. Educated at St Serf’s and later at St Leonards School in St Andrews, she read law at Edinburgh University before becoming an articled clerk with Davidson and Syme WS in Charlotte Square. In 1958 she married George Mathewson, an assistant master at Cargilfield School.

In 1962 they moved to Clifton Hall when George became headmaster. Being the wife of a prep school headmaster in those days was effectively a full-time but unpaid job. She described this state of affairs as “anachronistic, but interesting”, going on to describe their years at Clifton Hall as a happy, totally absorbing period of their lives. Over the next two decades they raised the school to the front rank of Scottish preparatory schools and in 1981 George became the first Scot to chair the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, the governing association of the great majority of British junior independent schools.

While her husband supervised the curriculum and directed the teaching staff, Anne ran the domestic side of the boarding school. In both cases these duties were anything but deskbound: Anne had periodically to carry out all of the roles she supervised herself, while George similarly found himself not infrequently working as a default handyman. Under their leadership the school was a friendly, nurturing place as well as a successful one. Many of their former pupils still remember them fondly for their many kindnesses.

Others associate them with particular experiences, such as the customary reading aloud of stories on a Sunday night: Anne read to the little children, while George entertained the seniors.

They retired in 1983 and moved to Speyside, where they had a house. Anne created a fine garden and participated energetically in the local community, being twice chairman of the Dulnain Bridge WRI and a supporter of the Grantown Museum and Heritage Trust. She also retained close links to Edinburgh: at the 1986 Commonwealth Games Anne was a member of the VIP Hosting Committee, and she was also a governor of St Margaret’s School. But over the two decades that they lived in Invernessshire Anne’s time was more and more taken up with caring for her husband, who died in 2003.

Anne lived for the last decade of her life in Edinburgh, where she saw many friends, pursued various cultural interests and enjoyed the company of her grandchildren. In 2013 she was involved in a serious car accident which largely confined her to a chair. She spent the last 18 months of her life in Cluny Lodge nursing home. As her memory faded, she could still recall details of many former staff and pupils and their families, whose subsequent lives she had followed with interest and affection.

Anne will be remembered as a lively, intelligent, amusing and engaging personality who greatly enjoyed bringing people together. Many of her friendships lasted a lifetime, but she always found time for new ones. She leaves a son, a daughter and four grandsons.

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