Obituary: Dr Mary Barlee MBE, GP and voluntary worker

Dr Mary Barlee
Dr Mary Barlee
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Born: 1 December, 1926, in Haddington, East Lothian. Died: 17 February, 2013, in Edinburgh, aged 86.

Mary Barlee came from a generation of doctors whose dedication to their patients was innate.

Surgeries were held three times a day, interspersed with home visits, with last house calls often followed by a return to the practice to carry out vital tests. They worked seven days a week with just a half-day off and were available, if need be, any time of day or night.

She thought nothing of cancelling a social engagement when duty called – aptly illustrated when she was discovered in the surgery testing urine samples at 10pm when she should have been dancing the night away at a ball.

Such commitment was in her genes: her father, a First World War hero who had won the Military Cross, and her eldest brother were both general ­practitioners, and that was just the way they worked.

But she also played her part in modernising working practices within their surgery. Where previous generations had kept patients’ notes in their heads, she initiated a system of recording medical histories on indexed cards. She also introduced the concept of one weekend in three off – unfortunately, the weekend still didn’t start until 3pm on a Saturday.

When she moved as a registrar to Edinburgh’s City Hospital she remained just as dedicated to her cause, putting in countless extra hours. And once she left medicine she continued to go the extra mile in her voluntary work, for which she was awarded the MBE.

Born in Haddington, to Dr William McLean and his wife Edith, she was named Edith Mary but was always known as Mary. A sport-loving tomboy, aged eight she was taught golf by her father and played hockey for the first XI at school and university. She would later help to pioneer skiing in the Cairngorms in the 1950s, ski cross-country in Norway and become a medal-winner at Prestonfield Golf Club.

As a teenager, during the early years of the Second World War, she and her twin brother Ian were evacuated to Dunoon to stay with an aunt and uncle. There she attended Dunoon Academy but on return to ­Haddington she became, in 1944, dux of Knox Academy.

She had originally wanted to be a nurse but her father persuaded her to become a doctor. She went up to Edinburgh University where she finished her final four years with her brother James, whose medical studies had been interrupted by war service in the RAF. They graduated together in 1949.

Her first post was as a houseman in gynaecology and then medicine at Inverness Royal ­Infirmary. She then moved to obstetrics at Edinburgh’s Simpson Memorial Hospital before becoming a registrar in obstetrics at Stirling Royal Infirmary.

After the death of her father, she decided to train as a GP to help out in his practice in Haddington. She trained with a ­doctor in Newtongrange and ­returned home as a GP in 1954.

But three years later she returned to university to study for a diploma in public health and subsequently spent 1958-60 as a registrar in infectious diseases at Edinburgh City Hospital, where she continued to work relentlessly long hours.

During that time she met her future husband, George ­Barlee, and, seeking more sociable hours, moved to Dunfermline to work in the public health department in 1960, giving up medicine after she became ­engaged.

The couple married in 1961 and moved to Edinburgh, where she raised their son and daughter and became heavily involved with the Mothers’ Union. In the early 1970s, she volunteered with the Brownies and became Brownie badge secretary for ­Edinburgh.

Her work with the Drum Riding for the Disabled Association centre in Gilmerton began around 1974 when she started helping with its Thursday morning classes. Soon she was involved in fundraising, running charity stalls and street collections, and became a trustee in 1979.

Two years later she became its full-time organiser. She was very much involved in the day-to-day running of the centre and diligently promoted it through talks, accompanied by the Drum film Four Legs To Freedom.

She transformed the riding school with the addition of an enclosed gallery, produced a booklet on the centre’s history from 1959-84 and met Anne, the Princess Royal, several times when she visited Drum as president of ­Riding for the Disabled (RDA).

In 1999, Mrs Barlee received a long-service award marking her 25 years with the organisation and, in 2002, was she presented with the MBE, for services to RDA, by the Prince of Wales.

After moving to West Linton in 1987, she regularly helped at the village lunch club and remained a trustee of Drum until retiring in 2005.

She is survived by husband George, son Roger, daughter Rosemary and grandchildren Kenneth, Rachael and Andrew.