Appreciation: Julie-Ann Macqueen, social worker, champion of one-parent families, tireless worker for change

Julie-Ann Macqueen, champion of one-parent families. Born: 30 April 1928 in Jerusalem. Died: 22 June 2019 in Edinburgh, aged 91
Julie-Ann Macqueen, obit in paper 18/07/2019Julie-Ann Macqueen, obit in paper 18/07/2019
Julie-Ann Macqueen, obit in paper 18/07/2019

Julie-Ann Macqueen was born in Jerusalem on 30 April 1928, where her Scottish father was a colonial servant in the Palestine Mandate. Her mother was a French national. She had two brothers, both deceased and has a large extended family. She spent the first 16 years of her life there.

Her deep affection for the Palestine people made her a passionate supporter of their cause for the remainder of her life. Her international upbringing was furthered by being educated by a French Catholic Order, who she said gave her a sense of responsibility for those in her community less fortunate than herself. These early influences ultimately led to a career in social work.

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After a period as a nursery nurse and a personnel officer in a biscuit factory, Julie-Ann did the Diploma in Social Studies at the University of Edinburgh as a mature student.

She worked in Dundee as a school welfare officer, learning a great deal about the extraordinary resilience of tired women living in poverty and appalling housing. Julie-Ann returned to the university in 1962 to do the child care certificate.

After qualifying, she was appointed as a senior social worker with the Catholic child care office in Glasgow. Frustrated with the slow pace of change, she moved in 1965 to the Scottish Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, with its unfortunate acronym of SCUMC.

Julie-Ann rose quickly to the role of Director, a post that she held until her retirement in 1988. During her time at SCUMC, which subsequently changed its name to One Parent Families Scotland, Julie-Ann achieved much to put the needs of one parent families on the national agenda of influential charities and individuals. She realised that the best way to further the cause of one parent families with potential funders was to provide research evidence about their circumstances.

The study, Single Parents, the First Year, by Angela Hopkinson, in the 1970s, funded by a grant from the Sainsbury family, and accompanying video, provided the evidence to legitimise the needs of single parents and show the importance of support from fathers. This study, supplemented by other research initiatives, showed that financial support to one parent families was money well spent.

Julie-Ann had the knack of using committees as the springboard for innovative services, such as the babysitting ‘Sitter Service’ and significantly, the Walpole Housing Association flats in Glasgow, providing young families with supported accommodation. She always had a clear vision of what was needed and persuasive skills to make it happen.

Julie-Ann almost always got her way. This applied in her private as well as her public life where she earned the respect and affection of friends and colleagues alike.

Julie-Ann’s strong foundation for all her life was her deep Catholic faith. She endeavoured to live her life according to her faith. This was shown in a generosity towards those she loved and her passion for helping those less fortunate than herself, underpinned by a strong sense of social justice.

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In 1978 Julie-Ann was awarded the OBE for services to children and families. Characteristically, she always said this honour should be shared with others who had helped her along the way.

When she retired, she set up the Macqueen Appeal Trust to help support the well-being of young single parents with an emphasis on helping them improve educational attainment. In 2017, the Trust funds were donated to the University of Edinburgh and are currently funding Ph.D students within their Department of Social Work. The terms of the bursaries are strict, setting the subject as study of one parent families, and urging the dissemination of any findings to provide more evidence about their needs and well-being. This research will be a fitting permanent memorial to Julie-Ann’s passion and ambitions.

Towards the end, Julie-Ann became more and more frail, with failing hearing and sight loss, as well as the pain of enduring arthritis but, however she was feeling physically, she always warmly welcomed visitors. She retained her sharp intellect, sometimes resulting in feisty conversations, which invariably Julie-Ann won.

She was both funny and critical about the deficits of the social care system but always appreciated the fact she could stay in her own home, almost right to the end. Julie-Ann loved poetry. At her 90th birthday party, I had the privilege of reading several poems chosen by her to reflect on her life. Her personality and inner strength are perhaps best summed up by the words of Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage rage against the dying of the light.” Julie-Ann lost her fight for life in Edinburgh on 22 June 2019 but she will be long remembered for her strength, her compassion and her achievements.

Jane Aldgate OBE