Obituary: Margaret Gardener, caterer and homemaker

Margaret Gardiner
Margaret Gardiner
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Born: 25 May, 1927, in Edinburgh. Died: 8 April, 2013, in Topeka, Kansas, United States, aged 85.

Margaret Gardiner passed away gently on 8 April, 2013 at Midland Hospice Care Center in Kansas after a very brief illness. She was 85.

Margaret Brodie was born in the Royal Maternity Hospital in Edinburgh, a city with which her father’s ancestors had been associated for 250 years. Her father, James Grant, who fought with the Highland light infantry in the First World War, was, like his father, Grandfather Grant, several uncles and grand uncles, and cousins, a house painter and decorator. He made models of many famous castles and palaces that endured at least to the 1960s.

He made a dollhouse and all its furnishings for his daughter that was the envy of all her friends. Her mother, the former Minnie Rogers, was a native of Somerset and a righteous woman of great faith.

From infancy on, Margaret lived with her parents and older brothers, and later her younger sister, in a Georgian tenement close to the University of Edinburgh’s main buildings.

One day in the late 1930s, Margaret and her little sister, Chrissy, in new pink dresses, walked up to the Royal Mile to see the Royal family progress down to Holyrood Palace on their annual summer visit to the capital.

To their surprise, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were also wearing pink dresses, and Elizabeth was holding an armful of pink roses from which she was throwing individual stems to various members of the crowd of well wishers.

She threw one that landed at Margaret’s feet, and she took it home and pressed it in a book. When the Second World War started Margaret’s family moved to a new housing development in Craigmillar, and became accustomed to near-nightly visits to the air raid shelter and to wartime rationing.

At the age of 14, in 1941, she left school – Niddrie Marischal Secondary School in Craigmillar – to work as a salesgirl for Young Brothers’ Bakery, where she stayed two years before going to work as a server at Mackie’s, a renowned Princes Street establishment containing coffee and tea shops and a traditional restaurant.

At a supervisor’s urging, Margaret trained to be a hostess in the catering business, and thereafter became a member of Mackie’s catering team, her favourite job of all. She never forgot the day at Mackie’s when she was waiting for a lift; the doors opened and there stood Sir Lawrence Olivier and his then wife, Vivien Leigh.

And she certainly never forgot the day when she was watching a dog fight overhead between a British and a German pilot and received a piece of shrapnel in her leg as a permanent souvenir of the war.

Margaret’s oldest brother, James, was drafted at the beginning of the war and made a medic in the army, and in May 1941, when her elder brother Tom turned 17, he enlisted in the Royal Navy.

Margaret wanted to do her part in the war effort too, and she and her cousin, Ella Grant, decided they would enlist in the Women’s’ Royal Naval Service when they turned 18 in 1945, but VE-Day occurred 17 days before Margaret’s birthday.

After the war she met Raymond Gardiner, an American serviceman from Kansas, at a Red Cross-sponsored dance, and emigrated to the United States in January 1948 to marry him.

They renovated a farmhouse on his father’s farm west of Denison, Raymond and called it home for the next 45 years. There, Raymond established a first-rate dairy operation and they raised their two children.

Due to a heart condition, Raymond was forced into early retirement, and then became interested in breaking and training mini-mules, and for the next 12 years they were on the show circuit every weekend, with Raymond eventually winning more than 100 first prize awards and the grand championships of several states.

After some initial doubts, Margaret found that she enjoyed this gypsy life, looking forward to preparing and freezing meals for thawing and eating while on the road and meeting and making new friends and seeing new country.

Thanks to neighbours who often included Margaret in their travels and church bus trips, she got to see much of the United States.

She was also able to make several trips back to Scotland.

Besides travel, she enjoyed reading, walking, crocheting and knitting, at which she was adroit; she was an excellent cook, a gracious hostess, and was well known for her winsome ways and loved by everyone who ever met her.

When the time came to retire, they purchased Margaret’s “dream house” in Holton, auctioned off the farm, and settled into retirement in the county seat, where they became involved with the local senior citizens centre.

After her husband’s death, Margaret decided she would like to live closer to her son in the San Francisco Bay Area, so in 2004 she and her daughter, Jan, moved to Castro Valley, California, but not being able to replicate their Kansas lives there, they returned to Topeka in 2006.

Margaret’s first religious instruction came from her mother, in the home, and she attended Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) Sunday Schools as a girl. In 1943, she joined the Bristo Memorial Church in Craigmillar; after she married, she and Raymond taught Sunday School.

She was a righteous woman, always doing the right thing at the right time, never boasting or expecting a reward. If she had one abiding credo, it will be found embedded in the poem Pass It On.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Raymond Gardiner, in 2003; her parents; and a brother, Tom R Brodie.

Her many survivors include her daughter and companion, Jan Gardiner, and a son, Allen Gardiner, sister, Christina Grant Curtis, and brother, James E Brodie.