Mary Anderson - an appreciation

Born: 12 February, 1932, in Forres.

Died: 17 February, 2006, in Forres, aged 74.

MARY Margaret Anderson - known affectionately as "M" for short - was born in Forres, Morayshire, 74 years ago. In this delightful Scottish market town, where her father was a well-known and respected pharmacist and her mother a teacher of mathematics, she grew up, became Dux of Forres Academy, learnt to fish expertly, play golf with a single figure handicap and walk the hills.

She went on to read medicine at Edinburgh University, winning prizes and graduating in 1956. Following graduation and house jobs in Scotland, she moved to London to continue her postgraduate training in obstetrics and gynaecology. After working at the Hammersmith, she became a registrar at St Mary's Hospital - the first female registrar ever to be appointed to the obstetrics department at St Mary's - which was to become her second alma mater and where her reputation as a great and popular teacher was quickly established. Her quick wit and sense of humour combined with her natural warmth and compassion meant standing room only at her lectures.

In 1967, she became a consultant at Lewisham Hospital - later to become a university hospital in its own right and where a wing of the maternity unit - the Anderson Unit - has been named after her. She quickly became known for her dedication to her patients and her constant availability for them both by day and night. Despite the heavy workload of a busy major hospital, Mary somehow found time to make major contributions to the speciality of obstetrics and gynaecology. She sat as a member and chaired many committees for her hospital, the regional health authority, the department of health and for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. She sat on the council of the Medical Defence Union and was a member of the scientific committee of the National Birthday Trust. She was an adviser to the chief medical officer and an influential member of the committee chaired by Baroness Cumberlege on "Changing Childbirth" in this country, which sought to empower and involve women more closely in their choice of maternity care and delivery.

Mary also found time to write five books for the lay public and contributed to textbooks for the profession. She was frequently to be heard on radio programmes answering questions from the lay public or joining in debate on current issues.

She was elected vice-president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1989, a post she held for three years. During this time, she travelled widely on behalf of the college, visiting hospitals and supervising the college examinations. In particular, she visited the Caribbean, Nepal and also Burma where she was one of only a few women allowed into the country in their own right.

The high point of Mary's career was being made a Commander of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in April 1996 for services to medicine.

After her retirement, Mary returned to her native Scotland and to Forres where her family can trace their links back over many generations and history records their many and various achievements and contributions to the life and work of this community.

She died peacefully in her home overlooking the Moray Firth on 17 February, 2006. Her Requiem Mass took place in Pluscarden Abbey on 3 March, 2006, and was conducted by the Abbot, the Rt Rev Dom Hugh Gilbert. She was interred with due ceremony in the family grave at Cluny Hill, Forres.

Mary Margaret Anderson was a truly exceptional person whose warm and charming personality touched and influenced so many lives. She was unchanged by her successes; she was gentle without any false sentiment and sincere in her concern for the wellbeing of others. She will be remembered with great affection by all those whose privilege it was to know her.