Widow hits out at ‘patronising’ sports minister Shona Robison
The Scottish Government was last night forced to apologise after sports minister Shona Robison was given a dressing-down by the formidable widow of a much-admired sporting figure.
Jean Forster took Ms Robison to task after the politician’s attempt to gate-crash the opening ceremony of a new gym that is to be named in memory of her late husband, Gordon Forster, a former coach to the Scottish national gymnastics team.
Today will see the official opening of a gymnasium near Largs that Mr Forster dedicated much of his life to developing before he died last year.
Originally, it had been thought that Mrs Forster would open the gym in March this year at a low-key gathering attended by some of the many gymnasts her husband – himself a talented athlete – had coached during a long and distinguished career.
However, Mrs Forster, 73, was surprised to learn that the sports minister was planning to perform the ceremony at the Inverclyde National Sports Training Centre, which has been refurbished and is to be renamed the Gordon Forster Gymnasium.
At first, Mrs Forster was prepared to accept the change and put the minister’s urge to open the event down to a politician’s desire to hobnob at high-profile events.
But one of Mr Forster’s protégés was moved to e-mail Ms Robison expressing his hope that Mrs Forster would not be sidelined. And the Scottish Government’s response to this e-mail infuriated Mrs Forster, a former assistant headteacher at Liberton High in Edinburgh.
The letter, from civil servant Alan Nicholson, said: “I understand that Mrs Forster has been invited to attend the naming ceremony on 27th June, and as a lady who I believe does not like a fuss, is content to be VIP guest without the need to be in the spotlight.”
It was this “patronising” letter from Ms Robison’s department that led Mrs Forster to give the politician a piece of her mind.
In a hand-written letter dated 13 June, Mrs Forster told the sports minister that she found the civil servant’s letter “patronising, offensive and totally inaccurate in its assessment of my character and attitude”.
She went on: “Why was I not accorded the courtesy of direct contact?”
And she wrote: “Mr Nicholson should be made aware that, in the hands of an unsympathetic newspaper columnist, his letter could be misconstrued as being a crude attempt to ensure that you, alone, take centre-stage. This would be a public relations faux-pas.”
Mrs Forster signed off by saying: “On a lighter note, my former colleagues, my ex-secretary and my friends have thoroughly enjoyed the joke of my acquiring modesty and reticence with advancing years.”
To Mrs Forster’s irritation, Ms Robison did not reply to her letter. The retired teacher was finally telephoned by a government official yesterday and told that Ms Robison would not be attending the opening after all, because she has important matters to attend to at Holyrood.
Last night Mrs Forster said: “I honestly think the woman is terrified of meeting me face-to-face. It is very sad, these people get paid enormous salaries and they should be a little bit more sophisticated than that.
“I have been around too long for anything to surprise me, but every so often you have to tell these people that this sort of thing is not good enough.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have only just been made aware of Mrs Forster’s letter. A senior official has spoken to and written to Mrs Forster to apologise for any distress that has been caused, and he will meet Mrs Forster to provide a personal apology at the official opening.”
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