Mairi Hay Findlay Pirie (Rankin) was born on 8 June, 1924 in Aberdeen, the only daughter of Bill and Gladys Pirie. Her father was involved in theatres in Aberdeen, which were also used for the showing of, initially, silent films, but also plays and music hall performances. An early love of the stage was cultivated.
Mairi studied drama in London during the Second World War and recounted on occasions the fact that her accommodation had twice been bombed. Despite this, she was awarded the Howard de Walden Prize for the best drama student in 1945.
When she returned to Scotland she took up the post of the first full-time lecturer in drama at what was The College of Dramatic Art in Glasgow. This later became the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. She taught movement, drama, acting and produced plays and operas at the college. She worked there for seven years full time and then part-time for many years after.
She also acted as an adjudicator in many spheres of poetry, speeches and drama. She met Roy Rankin, who was secretary of the Bank of Scotland in the mid-fifties. He was living in Edinburgh, she in Glasgow. They were married in St Mary’s Chapel in Aberdeen on 12 January, 1957.
They set up home in Edinburgh and fulfilled their tremendous love and enthusiasm for the arts. They collected paintings, sculptures and beautiful furniture for their home. They were enthusiastic entertainers and held interesting parties during the Edinburgh Festival – usually after a particular performance with many famous artists, actors and producers and directors coming to their house. Mairi was a wonderful hostess, flamboyant, entertaining and immense fun, with a great sense of humour. Invitations to their parties were much coveted.
After Roy retired in 1971, they remained very active in supporting not only the Edinburgh Festival and the arts in general. But they were at their happiest during the International Festival.
When not in Edinburgh Mairi and Roy enjoyed their cottage at Kilchattan Bay on the Isle of Bute – but not in August!
Mairi continued to work part time at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama until around 1976.
Roy died on 5 October, 1995, 20 years ago. Mairi picked herself up and had two hip replacements and two cataract operations and continued to go out and about to concerts, galleries and operas.
Her passion was her love of the arts and in socialising and meeting people.
Latterly, Mairi’s sight deteriorated, and she really did not venture out but still had many visitors, and in her own formidable way she held court in her drawing room flat.
In 2012 she established the Pirie Rankin Charitable Trust to support the performing arts during the Edinburgh International Festival. The trust has been a supporter of the Festival and this year sponsored the much acclaimed production of Antigone.
She was one of a kind – a remarkable and extraordinary woman.
She will have left her mark on those who knew her and her lasting legacy in memory of Roy and herself will be the charitable trust benefitting their beloved Edinburgh International Festival.