Obituary: Fiona McEwan, accomplished sportswoman and Commonwealth Games official

Fiona McEwan carries the 2014 Commonwealth Games baton
Fiona McEwan carries the 2014 Commonwealth Games baton
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Fiona McEwan, Commonwealth Games official. Born: 10 June, 1945 in Paisley. Died 31 March, 2017 in Paisley, aged 71

The death has occurred after a short illness of one of Scotland’s most outstanding Commonwealth Games officials.

Paisley-born Fiona McEwan was an accomplished athlete and games player who went on to devote her life giving back to sport, first to badminton where she became the first female president of the Scottish Badminton Union, then to the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland (CGS) where, after being elected as a board member in 2001, she was elected vice chair for both the 2010 and 2014 Games.

Michael Cavanagh OBE, who was in the chair throughout that period, has paid a fulsome tribute to her.

He said: “Fiona was CGS vice-chair during my whole period in the chair and our shared values on the importance of athletes being at the forefront of decisions in sport and the Commonwealth Games made it an effective partnership.

“Fiona made many contributions to CGS but two in particular stand out from her time as vice-chair: she chaired the CGS selection committee for both Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014, where her attention to detail and unwavering sense of fairness were important assets in making what could be difficult decisions.

“The CGS contribution to Glasgow 2014 was also a big challenge for an organisation mainly comprised of volunteers and Fiona’s appetite for hard work had a major impact on the success of Team Scotland at Glasgow 2014 and also on the delivery of the ‘Best Games Ever’.

“Those of us working in sport meet many special people and for me Fiona McEwan was up there as one of the best.

“On a personal level I’ll miss that great combination of feistiness and a twinkle in the eye that all who knew Fiona would have seen often.

“The biggest loss of course is to Duncan and the rest of her family but they can be assured that her influence on sport and the Commonwealth Games lives on.”

Fiona Fernie first met Duncan McEwan at the end of second year at Glasgow University where they both studied botany (her father’s subject), and romance started a year later after a field trip to Surrey.

“I took her hand to cross a busy road in Piccadilly Circus but on reaching the other side she didn’t let go,” he recalls.

They were engaged in 1967 and married on August 1, 1968, a partnership that lasted nearly 49 years.

Born in Paisley in June 1945 to Donald and Eileen Fernie, Fiona spent her early years in her father’s home town of Renfrew then moved to Kilbarchan at the age of ten. Later she and Duncan were to settle in Bridge of Weir, where they lived for more than 40 years.

Memorable happy family holidays were spent in Eyemouth where she returned to celebrate her 70th birthday.

All her schooling from 1950 to 1963 was at the John Neilson Institute in Paisley, where her personality and excellence in both sport and studies made her an ideal choice as Head Girl.

She played badminton, hockey, tennis (captain of both) and did athletics, representing Renfrewshire Schools at hockey and Scottish Schools in athletics, having won the Scottish Schools high jump title in 1963.

The titles continued at university with British Universities badminton women’s doubles wins in 1965 and 1966 and several Scottish Universities athletics and badminton crowns resulting in the award of a double Blue.

In the Scottish National Championships she was twice high jump silver medallist and even won a bronze in the shot putt.

An excellent all-rounder, competing in singles and both women’s and mixed doubles, Fiona won many Open Tournament titles and also played in the English Counties League.

Moving into administration she was Scotland’s badminton team manager at the 1994 Victoria and 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, village manager (at Heriot-Watt University) at the inaugural 2000 Millenium Commonwealth Youth Games in Edinburgh and Team Scotland assistant general team manager at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, when her elder daughter Kirsteen won a bronze medal in the badminton team event along with Craig Robertson, who was to become her second daughter Deirdre’s future husband.

Her academic career also flourished and she graduated with an Honours Degree in Botany, then undertook research work at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, developing bio-essay techniques for determining vitamin B12 levels for which she was awarded her PhD in 1971.

Fiona then turned to teaching, first at Govan High then as Head of Biology at Craigholm School and later, after a career break to bring up her family, lecturing for 20 years at Reid Kerr College.

Her main hobbies were stamp collecting, photography which she took up to accompany her gifted photographer husband Duncan on many memorable trips, and gardening, especially at the holiday cottage they bought at Spean Bridge in 1971 and where they spent all their school holidays.

This became a base to explore the Highlands and islands, with Harris a particular favourite.

In her remarkable, busy life she even managed to find time to support St Mirren in key moments.

The packed congregation at the funeral at Bishopton Parish Church on 6 April were told in the humerous eulogy that Fiona did not always suffer fools gladly and was often heard to exclaim “clown” when watching her sporting heroes perform less well than she expected.

But for those of us who had the privilege to call her a friend, she was a wise and kindly mentor who will be much missed.

SANDY SUTHERLAND