Obituary: Angela Wrapson, arts consultant, curator, teacher, former chair of Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Angela Wrapson with her husband George Kerevan on election night in 2015
Angela Wrapson with her husband George Kerevan on election night in 2015
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Angela Wrapson, arts consultant and curator. Born: 23 February, 1946 in Southampton. Died: 4 June, 2019 in Edinburgh, aged 73

Anglea Wrapson, who has died aged 73 after living undauntedly with cancer for almost a decade, was an influential and much-loved figure in Scotland’s cultural and political life for more than 45 years, after she first came to live in Edinburgh in 1973.

In the 1970s and 80s, she taught English at various schools in Edinburgh including Holyrood High School, inspiring her students with her love for literature and the arts, and her open-minded attitude to what they might make of their lives; in the late 1980s and 1990s, she worked as a curator, administrator and project leader for a huge range of Edinburgh-based arts and cultural organisations, including the Demarco and 369 Galleries, the Scottish Sculpture Trust, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fruitmarket Gallery.

In the mid-1980s, she became Chair of the Traverse Theatre Committee at a difficult moment in the theatre’s transition from private club to public theatre, steering the organisation deftly through what could have been a terminal crisis. In 1990, she led the curatorial team that won Scotland its first official representation in the Venice Biennale since 1897, commissioning David Mach to create a series of huge metal trees that appeared at the heart of the festival, in the Giardini della Biennale. And two decades later, she was still working both voluntarily and professionally in the arts, taking on curatorial and commissioning work with Mary Miller – former music critic of The Scotsman – when Mary became artistic director of the Norwegian city of Stavanger’s year as European City of Culture in 2008. Angela was also chair of the Stanza Poetry Festival, from 2009 until 2013.

Alongside her husband George Kerevan, a former Edinburgh councillor, Scotsman journalist and SNP MP, she also developed an ever-increasing interest in Scottish politics. In the early 2000s, after the setting-up of the Scottish Parliament, she became for several years the Hansard Society’s first-ever director in Scotland, working to promote understanding of the new parliament and its work, both in Scottish schools and across the UK-wide Hansard organisation.

Despite her illness, first diagnosed in 2010, she also supported George tirelessly during the Scottish Parliament election campaign of 2011, the Scottish independence referendum campaign of 2014, and the general election campaigns of 2015 and 2017; and when he was elected MP for East Lothian in 2015, she took on the task of organising his constituency office in Haddington, and driving him around one of Scotland’s most beautiful and varied constituencies, with her usual dedication and efficiency, while making it clear that she never could, or would, be defined as a woman who walked two paces behind her husband.

Angela Mary Wrapson was born in Southampton in 1946, the only child of Fred, who worked for the local electricity board, and his wife Gwen. She saw herself as a member of a lucky generation, born into a postwar world where children from relatively humble backgrounds were encouraged to believe that there was no limit to what they could achieve; and her parents were determined that she would have the best education possible, sending her to St Anne’s Catholic School for Girls in Southampton purely because of its high academic reputation.

Angela, though, was something of a teenage rebel, an early adopter of many aspects of the 1960s cultural revolution, from mini-skirts to a fearless sense of freedom; and when she left school, she headed to University College London, where she studied English Language, and shared a large flat in Notting Hill, then a run-down part of London where rents were cheap.

She became involved with a creative and theatrical crowd, including future playwrights Richard Crane and Howard Brenton, and the actress Tammy Ustinov; and after she graduated in 1968, she took up a job in theatre, working front-of-house at Frinton-on-Sea, and then in London, where she took part in the first-ever Women’s Liberation march of 1971. She had also become the passionate internationalist and European she was to remain for the rest of her life. Angela’s travels were and remained remarkable, ranging from a lone hitch-hiking trip through Europe to former Yugoslavia in her post-student years, to ground-breaking cultural exchange trips to China in the 1980s.

By 1973, though, Angela felt that she needed a more settled career and she decided to come to Edinburgh, to train as a teacher at Moray House. She made friends and contacts at her usual high speed, and by 1974 she was not only involved with the Edinburgh-based cultural group The Heretics, but was volunteering as press officer for that year’s EIS teachers’ strike. George Kerevan – then a lecturer at Napier University – was also on the strike committee; and by 1976, Angela and George had become lifelong partners, living first in Gorgie and Portobello, and then, in 1988, buying the east wing of Brunstane House, a beautiful 17th century “Scottish chateau” on the east side of Edinburgh. The restoration of the house and garden, and the honouring of its fascinating history, became part of their life’s work; and they were married there in 1991, becoming generous and legendary hosts.

It was striking, though, that despite the huge range of interests, and of work, that filled Angela Wrapson’s life, for her they invariably seemed all of a piece – part of the commitment to greater freedom and joy for everyone, to the dauntless cutting-through of unnecessary barriers and bureaucracy, and to beauty, elegance and creativity as a bright thread running through our history towards the future, that Angela embodied throughout her life, and always sought to share with others.

She is survived by her husband George, her sister-in-law Alice and brother-in-law Robin and their family; and also by scores of friends across the world who will profoundly miss her steadfast kindness, generosity and inspiration, and by thousands more whose lives were touched by her remarkable skill and determination in supporting and enabling others.

JOYCE MCMILLAN