Obituary: Dr Catherine Margaret Una Maclean, MD, D.Ph, PhD, FRCP, doctor, social anthropologist, academic, author

Dr. Catherine Margaret Una Maclean
Dr. Catherine Margaret Una Maclean
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Born: 3 July, 1925, in Applecross, Wester Ross. Died: 1 September, 2012, in Glasgow, aged 87

Dr Maclean achieved a great deal and travelled far from her Highland roots. The daughter of a Church of Scotland minister, she had to observe the Sabbath, during which no enjoyment, drawing with coloured pencils, humming of secular tunes or playing outside was permitted, an experience which led her to become a lifelong atheist.

Educated at Dingwall Academy, she studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. After graduating in 1949 at the top of her class, she took the traditional route and married Dr Peter Cockshott and, at least for a time, performed the role of dutiful wife and mother, giving birth to a first child, Paul.

But she and Peter soon escaped to a posting in the Aden Protectorate, in 1952, where a daughter, Aysha, was born. During this period, as the only woman doctor, she was allowed to treat Muslim women in the harems of the merchants of Aden, a window into an entirely different world.

The family, after a brief return to Edinburgh, then moved to Ibadan, Nigeria, where another son, Tunde, was welcomed into Africa. It was during her time in Africa that Dr Maclean was to more fully use her medical training, working closely with the traditional witch doctors of the Yoruba, convincing them to refer to the new Western hospitals patients whose symptoms could not be cured with spirit guards and traditional remedies. Her work in that ­period also took in the response to the Ibadan smallpox epidemic of 1957, work in blood transfusion in the late 1950s, and cancer research in the early 1960s. In Ibadan she met John P Mackintosh, who ­became her second husband, and subsequently a well-known Labour politician and author.

Back in Edinburgh Dr Mac­lean took up the roles of mother, politician’s wife and academic. She had two more children, Stuart and Deirdre. They were added to two stepchildren from John’s first marriage, Charlotte and Malcolm, making seven children in all.

Working while looking after this menagerie was not easy: it sometimes caused her to chase badly behaved children around the house and garden, but in later years, she chased the cats, a development appreciated by Stuart and Deirdre. Having so many offspring, she frequently forgot their names, running through the list until she hit upon the one to whom she was talking at the time.

Being a politician’s wife (John was elected to Parliament in 1966) had its upsides and downsides. Dr Maclean enjoyed the political debates and cut and thrust of discussion on the future of Scotland and the devolution of power, which she vehemently believed in and which she actively supported for her whole life, crying tears of joy at the opening of the Scottish ­Parliament in 1999. But she did not enjoy being relegated to a subsidiary role as “the wife of”.

She was Dr Maclean first and her husband’s wife second. Politically, professionally and personally, she always spoke her mind and let people know where she stood.

Dr Maclean taught for over two decades in the Department of Community Medicine in the University of Edinburgh. Based on research conducted in Africa she wrote her first book, Magical Medicine, and ultimately reached her self-imposed goal of “writing as many books as I have had children”, publishing five during her lifetime on various aspects of medical care (from nursing practice, to heart attacks, to community care for the ­elderly).

In her time she became a ­well-respected teacher, senior reader, acting head of the Department, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

She also found time for other pursuits, becoming a founding member and shareholder in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and hosting many great dinner parties, which always ended with the rolling back of the sitting room carpet and dancing to A Swinging ­Safari.

With robust West Highland genes and stoic resolve, she outlived her first husband Peter, her second husband John, and her final partner, Sir Bernard Crick. She is survived by her five children, two stepchildren and 14 grandchildren. In the end her family was most important of all. However, being Scottish, Dr Maclean was, until close to the end, careful not to over-emphasise this fact to them, lest they think she was dying.

Una’s funeral is at noon on Monday in Gifford, East Lothian. There will be a humanist ceremony in the Gifford Village hall, followed by the burial, in the graveyard of Yester Parish Church. From 5pm, we will be going to one of her favourite venues, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, in Leith, to raise a dram or two, and say a few words in remembrance of a remarkable person.

STUART MACKINTOSH