Obituary: Wendy de Ruset; ‘Drama wifie’ who enthralled the bairnies of the North-East with her stories
Born: 29 March, 1945, in Aberdeen. Died: 14 June, 2012, in Findochty, Banffshire, aged 67.
WENDY de Rusett carved out a life as a storyteller, reciting tales, ballads and narratives. It was a calling for which she never stopped enthusing, once declaring: “It’s my life and it’s my work. It’s the best job I know”.
Her calling was the narration of stories to children through mime, movement, voice, percussion, song, mask, puppetry and performance. She would sit cross-legged on the floor, puppet in lap, hands assuming all kinds of shapes, enthralling the youngsters thronged round her.
She also took stories to the elderly in sheltered housing and daycare centres, sharing reminiscing, stories and community singing in Scots; and she promoted storytelling as a way of life to adults, encouraging them to think anew with the dictum “Anyone can learn to become a storyteller”. Little wonder that she styled herself as “Scottish Storyteller”, complete with capital letters. Her enthusiasm was infectious. “Storytelling is good for you!” she wrote. “Storytelling develops your imagination [and] develops your powers of description”. She would avidly encourage adults with the credo that storytelling creates self-confidence, makes the teller and the audience laugh, as well as building values about both the natural world and people of all origins.
Wendy loved posing the question, who makes a good storyteller? Then providing the answer “Everybody”. Her tips included: “Paint the story like a picture.”
Wendy trained in drama, though she was also a water-colourist. Her storytelling craft came from Duncan Williamson, the Scots traveller storyteller. This introduction to traveller culture established her ethic of using storytelling to combat social exclusion as well as increasing empathy for moral, social and environmental issues.
Wendy was ever drawn to her homeland of North-East Scotland. Her mother came from Buckie. Although she was raised in Harrogate, Wendy studied in London and lived as a young woman in Leeds. She returned north at the earliest opportunity, first to Glasgow, and then Banffshire, the “drama wifie” in primary schools across north Aberdeenshire. With her beautifully-modulated vowels and received pronunciation, it was sometimes hard to square the same Wendy as the one for whom the mither tongue of North-East Scotland was her passion, but in this aspect, she was bilingual.
For someone whose staple in life was a prodigious mental storehouse of stories, tales, songs, ballads, poems, recitations proverbs, sayings, adages and turns of phrase, her astonishingly wide memory did not always extend to the immediate and the vital.
In younger days as a hillwalker, she was anxiously greeted by companions at the early-morning rendezvous in Glen Doll prior to an ascent of the Angus Munros of Dreish and Mayar with the query: “Wendy, where’s your rucksack?” Came the matter-of-fact response: “Oh, I forgot it”, adding, “Never mind, I’ll just sing for the day”. And she did, taking a perch on a nearby rock and singing her heart out.
With a huge enthusiasm for traditional music in North-East Scotland, she founded TASC – Traditional Arts for School and Community – an informal agency she operated from her Findochty home, organising gigs and sessions, as well as participation in folk festivals such as in Portsoy, Cullerlie, Macduff and Keith.
A favourite story of hers involved the tattiebogle (scarecrow), and her storytelling extended beyond narration into getting bairnies to make their own tattiebogles, then organising a procession with music where the tattiebogles could be paraded, as she did in Huntly.
Retirement in 2010 only increased her output in local traditional culture, storytelling and Scots singing groups. A regular at the Salmon Bothy Folk Club in Portsoy, she was also involved with the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival there, as a storyteller, singer and whistleplayer. At the time of her death, she had been preparing children from several local schools for a tin-whistle performance at the boat festival in Portsoy last weekend.
Wendy Anne de Rusett died suddenly, and is survived by her partner, Ronan Fitzsimons, and sister Lizzie. It was her wish that at her funeral tomorrow, mourners dress informally, and bring wild flowers for her grave.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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