Dr Nancy Loudon

Family planning pioneer Born: 28 February, 1926, at Killen, on the Black Isle, Ross-shire. Died: 20 February, 2009, in Edinburgh, aged 82.

DR NANCY Loudon, OBE MB ChB FRCPE FFSRH, was formerly medical co-ordinator of the Lothian Family Planning and Well Woman Services.

Nancy Mann was born in the Black Isle in 1926 into a large farming community, the daughter of A J Mann, a prominent Ross-shire farmer and county councillor. She was Dux of Fortrose Academy and, in 1944, entered the medical school in wartime Edinburgh.

She excelled academically and obtained her medical degree with honours, one of only a handful of students to do so each year.

She commenced work in the specialty of obstetrics and gynaecology, quickly becoming registrar on the professorial unit, working under the supervision of Professor Robert Kellar.

Her professional life changed dramatically when she became engaged to a fellow gynaecologist, John Loudon. Prof Kellar declared that there was no place for a married woman in obstetrics and she was forced to resign her post. Ironically, two years later John Loudon was to accept Prof Kellar's registrar post which Nancy had been forced to leave so abruptly.

Nancy's significant return to medical practice was a weekly session in the euphemistically named Edinburgh Mother's Welfare Clinic. This was Edinburgh's first family planning clinic and was run on a voluntary basis by two doctors, Maeve Marwick and Alexandra Lothian.

In the early years, the clinic was based in old shop premises in East Crosscauseway, where women sat on wooden benches and the building possessed only a cold tap. In 1957 a bequest of 2,000 allowed the purchase of the current premises in Dean Terrace.

Contraception for women in these early days really only meant diaphragms, but in the early 1960s, the contraceptive pill and intrauterine device became available. The clinic in Edinburgh quickly became a ground-breaking centre for these new methods as local women clamoured to benefit from the opportunity to delay and space their pregnancies.

Nancy took over as principal medical officer in 1972 and at that time, the clinic was Branch 50 of the Family Planning Association (FPA), although it was to be subsumed later by Lothian Health Board.

The 1960s and 70s were exciting but challenging times to be working in the contraceptive field. Nancy had a loyal and supportive team at the Dean Terrace clinic but faced huge battles as many of the older medical professionals were initially hostile to the new developments. Contraception for unmarried women became another battleground.

The clinic service expanded to offer well woman screening, vasectomy, sexual problems clinics and place-of-work screening in local factories. Nancy was justifiably proud of establishing the Lothian Abortion Referral Service, which streamlined the management of women seeking abortion, cutting down unnecessary and distressing delays.

She was able to pursue her academic medical interests with involvement in research studies on contraceptive steroid hormones, leading to more than 70 scientific publications. Her textbook The Handbook of Family Planning was written in 1985 and has been the UK bible for doctors working in the field; it pleased her greatly that the 5th edition, edited by Edinburgh colleagues, was published recently.

Nancy held a lectureship in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Edinburgh. She was chairwoman of the UK National Association of Family Planning Doctors and held many other national medical roles.

Following retirement in 1988, she was awarded the William Y Darling Bequest by Edinburgh District Council for good citizenship after a unanimous committee vote. In 1991 she became vice-chair of the newly established Health Education Board for Scotland and was subsequently elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Her contribution to medicine was marked with an OBE in 1992.

Nancy was not afraid to challenge the establishment when the needs of women were threatened and could cut through red tape and bureaucracy with her critical thinking and persuasive manner. The Cinderella medical specialty of family planning has now become firmly established in the UK with the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare; at the roots of its development and hard-won achievements were intelligent and articulate pioneering women such as Nancy Loudon.

Many people will remember and feel grateful to Nancy for her unfailing support and mentorship, loyal friendship and deep empathy for others when they were in difficult times. Her kindness to people of all backgrounds was unsurpassed.

Outwith medicine she enjoyed travel, especially in France, or on cruises, usually with the same group of friends. She read widely and maintained a keen interest in British politics. Her great pleasure was entertaining, whether displaying her culinary skills for supper with close friends or as the consummate hostess at large parties, which she could organise effortlessly. She felt privileged that all her grandchildren were at school in Edinburgh; her provision of food for them and their friends, cold and wet after sports matches at New Field, is legendary.

Nancy Loudon was hugely supported throughout her professional and personal lives by her husband, Dr John Loudon, retired consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and is survived also by her two sons and six grandchildren.