Lady (Mae) Heatly

Born: 15 March, 1919

Died: 13 April, 2003, in Edinburgh

MAE Heatly was a woman of many and varied talents with a rich fund of personal qualities which were to stand her in good stead throughout her life.

One of Mae’s great interests was swimming and it began at Sciennes Primary School when the late and legendary Jimmy McCracken recognised her potential and urged her to join Warrender Baths Club. She did so and remained a member for more than 75 years - a record unmatched by anyone, male or female.

Over the years she represented the club in many local, district and national events, and became the East of Scotland diving champion in 1937. (Co-incidentally, the same year that Peter Heatly won the men’s event for the first time.) Her last competition was on the eve of the 1939-45 war when she came second in the Scottish Diving Championships at Stonehaven.

After the war she returned to the club and, amongst other duties, acted as chaperone and mentor to young Warrender girls attending various events. She also acted like a big sister to the Warrender boys. More importantly, she encouraged the swimmers to make the most of their opportunities - perhaps conscious of those that she lost due to the war.

Her subsequent achievements are a matter of record. In 1973, she became the first woman president of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association (East District) - many years later, she was enormously proud when her eldest daughter, Helen, was elected to that post.

In 1976 Mae was elected president of Warrender Baths Club - the first and so far only woman president. In 1981 she reached the pinnacle when she was elected president of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association. She also served the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland at four successive games: as assistant swimming team manager at Edinburgh in 1970, and as assistant general team manager at Christchurch in 1974, Edmonton in 1978 and Brisbane in 1982.

In each of these roles, she brought to bear her considerable administrative and organisational skills and left her mark. Nor did her efforts lack humour. While president of Warrender, and every year subsequently, she sent a suitably worded message to the men’s dinner. She even threatened to attend, if only as a waitress. The only surprising thing was that she didn’t actually do it!

In 1970 Mae was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Swimming Awards Scheme which she managed for the next 20 years. Such were her financial skills that she generated substantial funds for both the SASA and the Scottish Schools’ Swimming Association.

Her outstanding contributions were fittingly recognised, first in 1977, when she was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and then in 1982, when she was made an OBE.

The qualities she brought to her activities were considerable. As a team manager, she was strict but fair, always encouraging her charges to strive for the same high personal standards that she set for herself: personal discipline, punctuality, loyalty to the team. She was a wonderful organiser and a compassionate people manager. She would never go to bed until the last team member had returned, even if this sometimes meant that she didn’t get to bed at all.

In 1970, a swimming scribe said: "Mae Cochrane’s knowledge of Scottish swimmers is so all-embracing that a Scottish team without her would be at a distinct disadvantage". There are at least two generations of Scottish swimmers - including Ian Black, Bobby McGregor and David Wilkie - who will testify to that.

It is, therefore, perhaps fitting that Mae’s very last outing was on St Andrew’s Day last year when she attended the ceremony at which these three, together with Sir Peter, were inducted into the new Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.

Another thing about Mae was that she cared for and about people. She took a particular interest in the young David Wilkie when he was boarding at his Edinburgh school - so much so that, in a postcard, David once described her as his "mum away from home".

Which leads on to Mae’s first and abiding interest and concern - her family, to whom she was devoted.

In January 1942 she married 2nd Lt Charles C K (Currie) Cochrane who, a year later, was posted overseas, leaving her with their infant daughter, Helen. Two years on, Currie was brought back on a stretcher from Burma and invalided out of the army. He later contracted multiple sclerosis and Mae became the breadwinner, faced with the task of bringing up their four young daughters. The way Helen, Pat, Linda and Elaine have turned out is testament to the love, care and attention with which she nurtured them.

In those days, it was a case of necessity being the mother of invention and Mae learned to turn her hand to every conceivable task. Nothing was too much trouble. She wouldn’t be beaten and managed to find a solution to every problem. Adaptability was the keynote and she had a way of adjusting what she had to what she needed. Decorating, replumbing, rewiring, furniture moving and sometimes even furniture making, were all taken in her stride. Add to that dressmaking, baking, cooking and cleaning and you wonder where on earth she got the energy.

In these difficult years, she lacked many things. But she never lacked friends.

Mae was widowed in 1965 and continued to put the family first. In 1984, she married Peter Heatly, who had himself been widowed five years earlier, and became a caring step-mum to Anne, Jane, Peter and Robert.

When the grandchildren came along, they brought her special joy and, as their numbers increased, so her pride in them grew. Between them, Mae and Peter had 20 grandchildren and she treated them all the same. However, they didn’t find "Super-Gran" (as some of them called her) a soft touch. When it came to playing cards or other games, all her old competitive instincts re-emerged and there was no way she was going to let them win - except on merit.

It is difficult to sum up Mae Heatly and to encapsulate her many qualities: her strength of character, her love of life, her devotion to her family and friends, her dedication to whatever task she was charged with, her intuitive good sense and judgment, her gentleness and unfailing courtesy and, above all, her absolute integrity.

Mae was a very modest and self-effacing woman. When Peter was knighted in 1990, she automatically became Lady Heatly but she never flaunted the title. She didn’t need to, because throughout her entire adult life she had demonstrated in every way that she was a lady of the very highest quality.

For those who knew her over the years, it was a privilege as well as a pleasure to have shared in her life. She will certainly be missed but her memory will continue to be cherished, not just by Peter and their families but also by a huge number of friends and acquaintances.