Obituary: Elisabeth Graham, playgroup founder, 81

A PLAYGROUP founder and well-known figure in Edinburgh's New Town has died after a battle with cancer.

Elisabeth Graham, who passed away on December 1 at the age of 81, set up and ran a pre-school playgroup in Edinburgh's Doune Terrace for more than two decades, which was the first educational experience of many advocates and judges in the city.

When she retired in 1989, her "children" hosted a reception for her in the Signet Library.

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Elisabeth, who was born in Oxford, was the daughter of Eric Graham, who became the Bishop of Brechin in 1944.

The family moved from Oxford to Dundee and apart from a year in Beirut as nanny to an American diplomat's family, she spent the rest of her life living in Scotland.

Elisabeth was dyslexic but the condition was not discovered straight away, and as a result she had little formal education.

By attending classes at the Extra-Mural department of the university and going on student visits to Italy, Elisabeth became extremely knowledgeable about art and architecture.

A highly intelligent and thoughtful woman, Elisabeth was also very creative and enjoyed making beautiful clothes for herself and for her friends, and her home.

Latterly she became involved with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, opening her home and providing support to a young Ethiopian woman who had experienced torture.

Elisabeth was also a member of St John's Church on Lothian Road, a building and a community that she loved and worked for over a period of more than 50 years.

In early 2008 Elisabeth was diagnosed with terminal cancer but was determined to enjoy life to the full, taking friends on holiday, making marmalade for the Christian Aid sale at St John's Church, and cooking delicious meals for friends.

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She faced death courageously and with humour - she had earlier ordered a cardboard coffin, for environmental reasons.

After being given the devastating news that her illness was terminal, Elisabeth arranged to go with two of her former playgroup assistants to the undertakers, where they spent a happy morning decorating the coffin with photographs of her "children" in the Doune Terrace playgroup.

She always remained a friend to them all, as well as to their children's children.

Despite her apparent conventionality, Elisabeth was also in many ways truly radical in her thinking and in the causes she supported.

Her funeral took place on December 11 at St John's Church, which was packed with family and friends and was a true celebration of her generous life.