Obituary: Jean Petrie

Jean Petrie: Devoted wife and mother who played an important part in Helensburgh's community
Jean Petrie: Devoted wife and mother who played an important part in Helensburgh's community
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Born: 18 April, 1928, in Auchinleck, Ayrshire. Died: 28 May, 2014, in Paisley, Renfrewshire, aged 86

The loss of one of Helensburgh’s best known women, Jean Petrie, is being felt by the many people who knew and admired her right across Scotland.

Jean will be remembered by everyone who met her, and there were thousands, as a gentlewoman of great grace and dignity, and by her family as “a five-star mum”.

She was the devoted wife of Billy Petrie, former Provost of Argyll and Bute Council and Freeman of Argyll and Bute, and was his great support throughout the 45 years of his life he gave to public service on councils including the old Dunbartonshire County Council, Strathclyde Region, Dumbarton District Council, and a host of other bodies throughout Scotland.

Billy held more provostships and convenerships and wore the gold chains of office of more councils in Scotland than any other local government politician in history.

Born in Auchinleck, Ayrshire, Jean moved to Helensburgh as a two-week-old baby and grew up in the town with her parents and her younger brother, John.

As a young girl attending Hermitage Primary School, she found herself sitting near a lad called Billy. The two pupils became friends, unaware that they were destined to spend their lives together.

Jean was a keen swimmer and was involved in the town swimming club as well as many church and youth organisations, and when she graduated from the Commercial College in Glasgow her first job was as secretary at Helensburgh police office in Sinclair Street.

One of her great joys was the adventure of travel, and she travelled extensively throughout her life. She had her first big trip when she moved to New York, crossing the Atlantic on board the Queen Mary, to work for the Paisley company, JP Coates. She spent 18 months there before returning to her beloved Helensburgh.

A job with a Glasgow firm of solicitors meant a daily commute to the city, a journey she often made in the company of her old school friend Billy, who was, by that time, back from National Service in the RAF and working for the National Coal Board.

Their friendship developed and they were married in St Columba Church almost 59 years ago.

At the time Jean lived in a flat opposite the church, and a red carpet was stretched across Sinclair Street and the traffic stopped to allow her to walk to the church where her groom was waiting.

Jean was a devoted mum to Elizabeth, Billy and Barbara, and she rejoiced in becoming a grandmother to Alan, Sheryl, April, Lynsey, Nicola and Fraser, and great-grandmother to Lewis.

She threw herself with huge enthusiasm into Billy’s public life and was always at his side, providing her own brand of gentle grace to every event she attended. She will be remembered for always knowing the right thing to say whatever the occasion.

Happy to remain in the background, Jean was not one for making speeches, but she was all in favour of taking action where she felt it was needed; she was the power behind the establishment of senior citizens’ lunch clubs in Helensburgh, Rhu, Garelochhead, Rosneath and Cove and Kilcreggan.

She canvassed tirelessly for Billy in every election and was also closely involved with a group that provided holidays in Spain for elderly people.

Jean was the inspiration behind the now famous New Year swim at Rhu Marina and attended every year to lend a hand. The swim has now raised well over £11,000 for the RNLI as well as many thousands more for other charities supported by the swimmers.

Jean enjoyed many special occasions at Billy’s side, including being a guest on the Royal Yacht Britannia when the ship visited the Gareloch. She considered it a great privilege to have met Her Majesty the Queen and many other members of the Royal Family, and attended quite a number of Royal garden parties at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh.

Her happiest memories of such events were when she was invited to Buckingham Palace, and when she was a guest at the Mass when Pope Benedict XVI visited Glasgow two years ago.

Jean died at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley a month after taking ill suddenly during a Sunday morning service at Luss Parish Church on Loch Lomondside, where her husband is an elder.

The couple, who were great ecumenists and were friends with the late Cardinal Tom Winning, also attended services regularly in Catholic churches in their area.

Jean will always be remembered for her unassuming personality, her warm and gentle nature and her wonderful smile and she will be missed by more people than she herself would ever have believed.

She is survived by her husband, Billy, daughter Elizabeth and son, Billy. A second daughter, Barbara, died suddenly two years ago.

Her funeral service, conducted by the Rev George Vidits and Canon George Bradburn, of St Gildas RC Church, Rosneath, took place yesterday at St Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Colquhoun Square, Helensburgh, followed by committal at Cardross Crematorium.