Obituary: Jean, Lady Gilmour, businesswoman

Former Naafi canteen driver who ran a quirky shop and restaurant in Sutherland.

Former Naafi canteen driver who ran a quirky shop and restaurant in Sutherland.

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BORN: 8 May, 1921, in Ardersier. Died: 31 January, 2015, in Sutherland, aged 93.

Jean Gilmour was a former Naafi canteen driver whose wartime duties and army catering experiences provided the perfect credentials to create a quirky shop and restaurant business that kept her active well into her 90s.

Married to the decorated war hero Colonel Sir Allan Gilmour MC and Bar, she had been a typically nomadic army wife until his retirement when, in the 1970s, she opened her venture in a picturesque woodland glade beside the family home in Sutherland.

She ran the Rosehall Craft Shop and Restaurant for almost the next 40 years, in tandem with her considerable voluntary contribution to the local community and while supporting her husband in his role as Lord Lieutenant for the county.

A unique and feisty character, whose welcoming hospitality attracted a loyal following of customers, her enthusiasm did not extend, however, to bureaucracy, with which she had no truck: she reacted defiantly to the smoking ban by disposing of an official delivery of No Smoking signs on a bonfire and batted off any attempts to impose officialdom.

Born Phyllis Jean Olive Wood, she was the daughter of Major E G Wood, a Seaforth Highlander and also Military Cross holder, and his wife Clara. Brought up at Gollanfield House near Ardersier, she was the eldest of a family of five and attended primary school in Inverness before going on to Queenwood School in Eastbourne where she was head girl.

The Second World War began not long after she left school and she then worked full-time for the Naafi driving one of its canteen vehicles which served the troops with hot drinks and refreshments at army barracks and training bases in Aberdeenshire.

The young Jean had already met the man she would marry, Allan Gilmour of Rosehall, Sutherland, an officer in the Seaforth Highlanders, and they wed in Nairn in December 1941 when she was 20.

She continued to work with the Naafi until the following year and became a full-time mother with the arrival of their first child in 1943.

Her husband won the Military Cross firstly at El Alamein and then again in Sicily, and when the war ended the family moved with him on various postings including to Germany’s British sector and, in 1952, to Pakistan, where she worked in the Mission Hospital in Quetta for several months. From 1960 the Gilmours, who also had a home in Nairn, spent three years in Ghana where she worked as a catering manager in the officers’ mess, ordering food and planning menus.

When her husband retired from the army a few years later, the couple, who had three sons and a daughter, settled at Invernauld, the home in Sutherland that had been in the family since 1891.

There, in 1975, she converted an old garage-cum-coachhouse into a restaurant and craft shop. The business, which would have celebrated its 40th year this year, was in an idyllic setting among the trees and provided home cooking and Highland and traditional craftwork.

She ran it, in her own inimitable style, throughout that period, opening from Easter to the end of September annually and attracting return visitors year after year.

She also supported her husband unstintingly in his duties as Lord Lieutenant from 1972 to 1991 and was a member of the Sutherland Tourist Board in the 1970s and 80s, always working to promote Central Sutherland. In addition, she was a member of the Sutherland branch of the Red Cross for 40 years and one of its office bearers for at least a decade, and president of the Rosehall Four Seasons Club for the elderly.

A woman who loved to entertain, who was always interested in others and displayed a zest for life and mischievous sense of humour, she remained stoic despite disability which had restricted her for more than a decade.

After her tragic death in a fire at her home, a neighbour poignantly observed: “It is like a light going out in this area.”

Predeceased by her husband and sons David and Patrick, Lady Gilmour is survived by her sister Elizabeth, daughter Susan and son Colin.

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