Lady Jean Rankin

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Born: 15 August, 1905, in Midlothian Died: 3 October, 2001, in Edinburgh, aged 96

LADY Jean Rankin was one of those distinguished and respected ladies who make royal visits go like clockwork. They remain in the background and smooth the path of the royal guest: over the years they know when to quietly interrupt a conversation and have mastered the art of carrying boundless bundles of bouquets. They are always on hand to solve any problem and allow the visit to pass off as expected.

Lady Jean particularly associated with the Queen Mother, and her tact and diplomacy ensured, for almost half a century, that the people who were meant to meet the Queen Mother did so. Her warmth and charm endeared her to other members of the Royal Family and numerous official guests. In the case of "my boss" - as she rather delightfully described the Queen Mother - it also meant trying to keep the legion of fans in line and adhere to the day’s schedule.

Lady Jean Margaret Dalrymple was the eldest daughter of the 12th Earl of Stair. She was born at Oxenfoord Castle, just outside Edinburgh, and was brought up there and at the family’s estate, Lochinch Castle, in Wigtownshire. She then spent some years working for a ladies’ magazine.

In 1931, she met Niall Rankin, who was a junior (and impoverished) officer with the Scots Guards. Lord Stair was unhappy when asked to give his blessing to their marriage. A major hurdle was the fact that not only were Rankin’s parents divorced but he had never met his father. Rankin took his fiance to meet his father and she charmed him completely. The couple got engaged, and when Rankin senior died later that year he left his considerable fortune to his son and his library to his daughter-in-law. Lord Stair was happier.

In 1937, the couple bought the House of Treshnish, near the village of Calgary on the north-west coast of Mull. It was a considerable undertaking for the couple - the estate was over 1,000 acres with numerous small uninhabited islands. They farmed it with a committed enthusiasm and displayed a typically adventurous spirit by specialising in breeding rare ducks and geese.

Lady Jean was always a dedicated and knowledgeable gardener, and despite the erratic weather conditions on the island she established a wild garden which had a magnificent display of spring flowers, rhododendrons and azaleas. After the war, the couple established a wildlife colony on the estate and the surrounding islands (they were both noted ornithologists) and when Treshnish was sold a decade ago it was acknowledged as one of Scotland’s most important wildlife sanctuaries.

It was in 1947 that Buckingham Palace approached Lady Jean to become Woman of the Bedchamber to the then Queen. Her duties involved secretarial and internal arrangements as well as acting as lady-in-waiting on official visits. Lady Jean, it is thought, was a calming help at the time of George VI’s death and the move by the Queen Mother from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House.

While many of the visits made by the Queen Mother were in the United Kingdom, Lady Jean accompanied "the boss" to the United States and Canada in 1954 and Australia in 1958. She remained on duty - two weeks on and six weeks off - until 1982.

Lady Jean had fitted into the arrangements at Clarence House in such a joyous and seamless manner that she was made an Extra Woman of the Bedchamber. That position allowed her to be with the Queen Mother on more informal occasions and when she was resident at the Castle of Mey or Birkhall.

Lady Jean was a charming and tactful person who, with a polite smile, could calm a difficult situation. She remained fiercely loyal to her employer and never spoke a word out of turn. In a television programme celebrating the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday last year, she spoke with deep affection about the work the Queen Mum does and assessed, with much insight, her place in contemporary society.

But Lady Jean was really happiest in Scotland. She loved the rugged, windswept coastlines around Calgary Bay and out to Treshnish Point. She had had a pilot’s licence for many years and delighted in flying herself around Scotland until infirmity no longer made it possible. She also had a passion for cars - and driving them at speed.

In 1994, ill health overcame Lady Jean and she ceased to be a member of the Household. She made the brave decision (with great sadness) to sell Treshnish and entered an Edinburgh nursing home.

She had been appointed a CVO in 1957 and a DCVO in 1969. Her husband died in 1965, and she is survived by their son, Sir Ian Rankin. Their other son, Sir Alick Rankin, former chairman of Scottish and Newcastle, died in 1999.