In 1948, when Heti’s father offered her the choice of support in studying either languages and drama in Paris or medicine at Cardiff, she hesitated – savouring the dilemma – but followed her instinct to choose medicine.
Months later, she was one of only four young women enrolled into a first year dominated by demobbed older men. “They were all perfect gentlemen and protective to a fault,” she would say.
After graduation in 1955, she moved into psychiatry via grim attachments in neurology and paediatrics. “I ended up smoking like a train, working all hours and could put up drips and do lumbar punctures in my sleep,” she said. “I could span my waist with both hands.”
She was recruited to specialist training at the prestigious Fountain Hospital in London’s Tooting where the two pillars of this establishment, LT Hilliard and Brian Kirman, immediately recognised her worth. They each vied to monopolise her time and energy so she ended up deputising for one and ran the full research and teaching programme for the other.
She was given full rein to develop, successfully, a new service for families in distress. Unstoppable, she proceeded to open the very first hostel in the UK, decertifying and resettling long-stay hospital “in the community” patients. Of course, she had been advised that it could not, and probably should not, be done.
She was now a front-line and formidable crusader for the rights and responsibilities of the individual – and for advocacy that was unsentimental and sometimes adversarial; her pioneering work as a family therapist underpinned her life work: “I saw parents as colleagues and siblings as friends,” she said.
By 1965, Heti was married with three children under five. She and her husband, John Evans, were seen as an ambitious couple on the brink of success.
His break came first, an enviable appointment to the Young People’s Unit in Edinburgh. With Heti’s career on hold, she immersed herself in family life, creating their first beautiful home in Queen’s Crescent. It became a hub for colleagues from home and abroad who enjoyed fine food and wine and Heti’s inimitable hosting style – extrovert, generous and tireless.
She settled finally in the St Joseph’s Hospital near Roslin where, with the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul – she fostered and enriched a receptive clinical team. St Joseph’s became her clinical resting place – inspirational, restorative, supportive and innovative. The highlight of this time was a personal meeting with Pope John Paul II in June 1982, which put the seal on a wonderful and productive time of her life.
His reference to St Matthew’s Gospel, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me”, resonated with her own spiritual philosophy.
Former trainees and students, some of them now consultants, will remember Heti in her role as speciality tutor introducing her signature monthly programme of visits featuring best practice in community care programmes.
She pioneered inclusive models of inter-disciplinary teamwork and radically shaped the strategic provision of care across the Lothians and Borders.
By 1980 she became the “must-have” speaker on the lecture and conference circuit. She had mastered the art of being deliberately provocative, but never offensive.
She engaged with audiences fearlessly, welcomed banter and indeed heckling and could remember every face and comment in a crowded hall. Watching her working the room could have been included in a master class.
She launched, guided and raised funds for a raft of charities, including Art Link, Ark Housing Association, Niemann Pick’s, Scotland Yard Adventure Playground and later Capability Scotland, Rachel House for Children’s Hospice Association, Sense and Partners in Advocacy. Her connections were there because she touched people and her integrity was tangible.
She could stand in front of any group, from a small business seminar to crowds filling the Edinburgh Playhouse, the Usher Hall and the National Gallery. Petite, gracious, elegant and eloquent, she moved audiences to tears and claimed their loyal generosity and support.
Following her retirement from the NHS in 1995 she became president of the Welsh Society and was in regular contact with BBC Wales. Over the past 17 years her St David’s Day parties became the hottest ticket in town.
When she alluded to her roots in the small villages of South Wales, her eyes brimmed with tears – “I can only say it in Welsh! Our home was more like a community centre, open all hours with citizens’ advice bureau and shop attached – and a church hall and a school. The front rooms housed desks, an organ, a pulpit and a small stage.”
Her father inevitably and effectively ran the village and Heti was trained up to be his “right arm”. “My social confidence and administration skills I owe to my father, my homemaking and seamstress skills I owe to my mother.
“And although I loved the stage, drama was never for me, I was too good at ad libbing and putting fellow actors off” – one no less than Dylan Thomas.
At age 77, she admitted to a yearning to be in print and, inspired by the Festival, she approached the editor of The Scotsman who instantly signed her up to write a regular column, as LOLA – Little Old Lady Alone. The eponymous collection which followed represented the essence of Heti, “my reminiscence therapy” – random, profound, disarmingly subversive, hilarious and moving.
Most recently, and ironically, her personal and professional experience came full circle. The Welsh section of the Royal College of Psychiatrists asked her to visit and contribute to an appreciation of the venerable Physicians of Myddfai – which was, of course her home village in Carmarthen, South Wales.
She was feted by the organising committee for her crucial knowledge, generously shared.
Heti had truly come home.