Obituary: Lilian Carmichael, solicitor, journalist and lecturer in law

Born: 8 April, 1924, in Dunoon. Died: 1 February, 2014, in Colonsay, aged 89
Lilian Carmichael: Fearless Dunoon lass who became a journalist and one of Scotlands first female solicitors. Picture: ContributedLilian Carmichael: Fearless Dunoon lass who became a journalist and one of Scotlands first female solicitors. Picture: Contributed
Lilian Carmichael: Fearless Dunoon lass who became a journalist and one of Scotlands first female solicitors. Picture: Contributed

Lilian Campbell was born in Dunoon, the only child of Duncan Campbell of Colonsay and Mary Macfarlane of South Uist. She was also the grand-niece of Donald Macfarlane, the Raasay minister who was one of the two originators of the “Second Disruption” of 1893 and a founder of the Free Presbyterian Church.

Her Dunoon home was a magnet for islanders and churchmen and where Lily would eavesdrop on many a theological debate. It was also a place of music, laughter and lively conversation, where she learned to value hospitality and devotion above denomination.

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From an early age, Lily demonstrated her hallmark self-sufficiency and adventurous spirit. Search parties were mounted on more than one occasion for the copper-haired child who had gone missing. Absconding once from relatives in Greenock, she caused particular consternation on both sides the Clyde – her host was Governor of Greenock Prison.

Lily also narrowly cheated death, losing a year of her schooling to hospitals. But she lived life thereafter with zest and excelled at Dunoon Grammar School. A gifted mezzo-soprano, she later contemplated a professional singing career but opted to pursue academic interests instead.

The war years were a rude awakening. In 1939, her home was requisitioned. She later watched the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders leave for France; witnessed the Clydebank Blitz from her bedroom window and glimpsed the secret departure of the Queen Elizabeth on her maiden dash for the safety of New York.

She would lie awake at night listening for the boom defence between the Cloch Lighthouse and the Gantocks to close, the ships safely in. She bore the loss of close friends and waited anxiously for her father, delighting one Christmas in his return from an Arctic convoy and his demonstration of the Cossack dance.

Enrolled at Glasgow University in 1943, Lilian studied zoology under the inspirational Professor CM Yonge, before graduating with an MA in moral philosophy and economics and then an LLB in 1949. She helped to run the university’s Philosophical Society, Juridical Society, and Christian Union, and was the Scottish women’s representative for the Inter Varsity Fellowship. Lilian was attractive and vivacious, and her admirers included some who became prominent churchmen. She graciously side-tracked them, explaining later – “no way was I going to be a minister’s wife!”

Lilian was in the vanguard of practising women solicitors in Scotland, completing her apprenticeships as a trainee solicitor with Glasgow firms MacKinnon, Ballantyne & Hurll, and Kidstons & Co Writers.

In 1951, with a Carnegie Research Scholarship, she accepted an invitation to study international law at Leiden, thereby reviving a centuries-old academic link with the Netherlands. Her subject was international legislation and drugs of addiction.

In 1952, Lilian met her future husband at a Christian conference by Loch Lomond. William Carmichael was a conservationist in the Colonial Forest Service on study leave from East Africa. In 1955, they married and settled in Tanganyika, first in the foothills of Kilimanjaro and later on the shores of Lake Victoria.

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Life was enriched by friendships forged among strangers from all over the world. Lilian’s mother also joined them; and Anglican bishops, African churchmen and colonial diplomats would sit at her feet, wondering how she had come upon her theology and her wisdom. Colour and denomination counted for little in that home.

Lilian taught English and became a freelance journalist, penning numerous articles on life in East Africa, photographing elephants alongside Iain Douglas Hamilton, and covering Princess Margaret’s visit in 1956. She also reported the Tanganyika Rifles’ mutiny of 1964. Her two children held firmly by the hand and a Rollieflex around her neck, she infiltrated Tabora airport to record the arrival of low-flying Sea Vixens and a rescue party of Royal Marines deployed from Aden.

In the late 1960s, the family relocated to Edinburgh, where Lilian worked as a solicitor with Bryson & Davie, WS. Her first legal patch had included the Gorbals; in genteel Edinburgh, she shocked her senior partner by climbing over walls to do her surveys.

In 1970, she was appointed a lecturer in law at Edinburgh College of Commerce, later Napier University, where she relished teaching and worked beyond retirement age. In 1972, Lilian finally became “the minister’s wife”, whole-heartedly supporting Bill in his new calling as minister of Restalrig Parish Church.

She maintained her lifelong hospitality, keeping the manse doors open to all, while she juggled work, church and family.

In retirement, Lilian and Bill spent time in Colonsay, creating a garden and enjoying friends. As Bill’s health failed, Lilian devoted herself to his care and encouragement.

After he died in 2000, and despite failing eyesight, she turned to editing his East African diaries and writing her own memoirs as a keepsake for the family.

Physical infirmity in no way diminished Lilian’s spirit, nor her appreciation of friends, family and visitors.

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She was a great storyteller, but she was also a great listener, patiently and persistently encouraging others. Her life was an adventure of faith marked by courage, contentment, grace and gratitude.

Lilian died peacefully at home and is buried on the island of Colonsay. She is survived by her children, Donald and Mary, and her four grandchildren.