Leonella (Leo) Longmore, teacher, educator, local historian and author. Born: 6 April 1935 in Aberdeen. Died: 4 February 2018 in Inverness, aged 82.
Inverness has lost one of its most admired and elegant personalities with the death of Leonella (Leo) Longmore. Born into one culture, raised in another, Leo’s life is testimony to the benefit Scotland derives from the immigrant experience and the positive contribution made by the Scots- Italian community.
Born in Aberdeen, the daughter of Pietro and Linda Ferrari, her parents were Italian immigrants who came to Scotland in the 1920s from the mountain village of Borgo Val di Taro in the Appenines. The family moved to Inverness in 1936 where they established the renowned Ness Café at a time when the café/ice cream shop was a focal point in Scottish society.
Leo identified closely with the town and community of Inverness. but her early years there were marred by the advent of war, when Mussolini declared war on Britain in June 1940. Overnight all Italians were classed as “enemy aliens”. Her father, like other Italian nationals, was interned, while her mother was liable to be relocated to Tomintoul, saved only because she was nursing a terminally ill two year old son.
Leo was educated at Heatherley School in Inverness where she did well academically. Avoiding the expectation of entering the family business, she was the first of her family to go to university, graduating with Honours from Aberdeen in French and Italian in 1958. There she met her future husband, Bryan Longmore, a Law student whom she married in September that year. The couple moved to Toronto in Canada where Leo worked in the Italian Consulate General. They returned to Europe in 1960, first to Parma in Italy where Leo lectured in the European School of Languages, then home to Inverness in 1961, where she taught French and Italian at Inverness Royal Academy. She became Principal Teacher of Modern Languages there, a post she held for 16 years.
A person of great intellect, Leo recognised the importance of learning and she had a gift of knowing how to encourage students to achieve their best. Former pupils described her as “an inspirational teacher”. One recalled that, “She was an extraordinary presence in the school, and all schools need someone to levitate teaching above the humdrum.”
Leo not only applied her gift for teaching to the classroom, she put that experience to good effect, becoming a marker of national examinations and a setter for Scottish Certificate of Education exam papers, in particular for Sixth Year Studies (Advanced Higher) Italian. Her contribution to education was widely acknowledged. At its first AGM, the Italian Highland Circle President said: “Inverness Royal Academy is a stronghold of Italian language and culture and what it offers exceeds anything which can be offered by other schools.”
On retirement Leo had what she termed “time to stand and stare”, but she did not stand idle for long. Exploring the highways and byways around Inverness and the north, she discovered hidden gems – long abandoned and forgotten castles and small isolated rural churches – and decided to write about them. Articles appeared regularly in the Inverness Courier and there were many invitations to give public lectures. She was interviewed regularly by BBC Radio Scotland and local radio. Her first two books, Land of Castles (1993) and Land of Churches (2000) sold out within months. A reviewer wrote, “I look and see heaps of old stones. You look and see heritage and stories, and tell us about them.”
Invited to write Inverness in the 18th Century (2001) she wrote with authority and affection for her home city. James Love, late editor of the Inverness Courier, said “She reveals such a light touch, pupils may regret she didn’t teach them history as well.”
Leo greatly enjoyed the outdoors. Walking or scouring the autumn woods in search of cherished “porcini” or wild mushrooms, or simply relishing the northern views in their seasonal colours. She was a skilled Bridge player, attending Inverness Bridge Club, and participated with some success at many club and national competitions.
Travel and attending cultural events were also important in her life. She regularly attended the Edinburgh International Festival and thrived on outings to Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, especially to performances of Italian opera and classical music. Periodic trips to the Royal Opera House in London and other international opera houses bear testimony to that enduring love.
Widely travelled, a particular favourite was inevitably Italy, to experience its cuisine and cultural beauty, and to visit family and friends. Travel was not restricted to Europe, however, taking in many continents, but always returning home to Inverness even though on occasion she took issue with the Scottish climate.
Eventually, Leo’s writing came full circle when she published From Alien to Italo-Scot (2016). This book recorded the history of Italians in Inverness, reflecting her own family’s story and the experience of the wider Italian community in the north. She reflected on her own personal journey, a crossing from one culture to the understanding of another, and the confusion that it brought, best expressed in her own words.
“There are two poets, both named Robert, who epitomise my dilemma. The first, Browning, wrote, Open my heart and you will see, graved inside of it ‘Italy’. The second, perhaps the better known Robert, Burns, wrote My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.”
As a second generation Italian living in Scotland, Leo showed that despite her early difficult experience, to have an Italian aspect to one’s life was “a God-sent bonus”. She left strict instructions that the following be inscribed on her memorial:
A stranger in Italy
A ‘Tally’ in the land of my birth
Lord now judge me for what I was worth
Survived by her husband Bryan, her children, Bruno and Marco, and grandchilden, Anthon, Melissa, Chiara and Luca, her loss is felt keenly both by family and all those whose lives she so clearly influenced.