Obituary: Edith Stewart MBE, matron and First Lady Chieftain

Born: 26 April, 1935, in Dumfries. Died: 7 August, 2015, in Thailand, aged 80.

Edith Stewart, Scottish matron and First Lady Chieftan who was a key part of ex-pat life in Thailand. Picture: Contributed
Edith Stewart, Scottish matron and First Lady Chieftan who was a key part of ex-pat life in Thailand. Picture: Contributed
Edith Stewart, Scottish matron and First Lady Chieftan who was a key part of ex-pat life in Thailand. Picture: Contributed

Edith Stewart was the epitome of an old-fashioned matron: compassionate, forthright and caring.

Initially rejected for nursing – she was deemed to be too small to be able to work on the wards – she trained in domestic science. Fortunately for the nursing profession, cooking was not her forté and, following her true vocation, she resolved to pursue a career as a nurse, subsequently training as a midwife and ultimately taking a job as a sister in Bangkok.

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Soon promoted to matron, she became a fixture on the ex-pat social scene, remaining happily in Thailand for the rest of her life, where she became First Lady Chieftain of the St Andrews Society and was presented to the King of her adopted country on the society’s centenary.

Born in Dumfries, she was educated at Dumfries Academy before going on to the Ministers’ Daughters’ College in Edinburgh and attending the Edinburgh College of Domestic Science in Atholl Crescent.

That proved to be a field she did not enjoy and later, supported by her family, who understood her true ambition lay in nursing, she forged ahead with another attempt to get into her chosen profession and this time was successful. She went on to do her nursing and midwifery training at the Scottish capital’s Western General Hospital.

Her first visit to Thailand was in 1968, to see her brother Charles, who was working out there, and shortly after returning to Scotland she was offered a job at the Bangkok Nursing Home. After giving it some considerable thought she moved east in 1969, joining the British Club Bangkok five days after landing in the city.

She went on to spent 30 years at the nursing home, at the helm for 25 of them as matron, running the institution with Scottish efficiency and delivering a fair few babies in her time.

It wasn’t unknown for her to finish work and slip off to the Churchill Bar at the British Club where an appreciative father, recognising her from her role in the birth of his offspring, would leave a drink at the bar for her in thanks.

Beyond her professional life she was well known in social circles where she made a number of huge contributions to community life.

She was the first Lady Chieftain of the St Andrews Society, an excellent Scottish country dancer and an expert in how things should be done.

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One of her proudest moments was being presented to King Bhumiphon Adulyadej.

The longest-serving female member of the British Club Bangkok, she was elected on to its general committee this year, and apparently no ambassador was fully installed until they had been interviewed by her.

She helped to man the Sisters of the Good Shepherd charity shop and worked in Father Joe’s Mercy Centre Hospice in Klong Toey, keeping patients there comfortable and mobile.

She also ran Granny’s Attic at the Ploenchit Fair, the British community’s annual fundraising extravaganza, selling all sorts of donated goods.

Then there were car boot sales at the British Club, in advance of which she stored countless donations, including a collection of rocks, in her apartment.

She and a friend drove the refreshment cart at golfing events, dispensing cold beers and whisky to the players and, occasionally, to themselves.

She also mastered a computer, although she referred to it as “that stupid thing”, covering it with a tea towel when technology proved too challenging, and was a “cracker lady” – one of a group of friends who handmade thousands of Christmas crackers.

Immensely proud to be made an MBE in 1996, in recognition of her contribution to life in Bangkok, she died peacefully in the nursing home she had once run – but only after requesting her cracker craft materials to stave off the boredom of her hospitalisation.