Obituary: Lilias, Countess of Cromartie

Lilias, Countess of Cromarty: Adventurous doctor who brought Castle Leod back to life as a focal point for family and the local community
Lilias, Countess of Cromarty: Adventurous doctor who brought Castle Leod back to life as a focal point for family and the local community
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Born: 25 March, 1918, in Leeds. Died: 11 October 2013, in Strathpeffer, aged 95

She was the eldest of the seven children of James Walter McLeod, Professor of Bacteriology at Leeds University, and Jean Garvie, both immensely proud of their Scottish and Highland ancestors. On seeing his new daughter her father remarked that she looked like “Old Bill” a cartoon of an old soldier in the periodical The Bystander. This is the origin of her nickname Billy.

She grew up in Leeds where she attended Leeds Girls High School and then went on to board at Esdaile School in Edinburgh.

In 1935 she had to decide whether to become a professional pianist or follow a different career. She chose medicine and in 1936 started at Leeds University, one of very few female students.

In 1940 she married Dick Richard, a school friend of her brother. The first years of her marriage, like so many war time marriages, was pretty disjointed, with Dick away fighting (he was Colonel, Combined Operations) and Billy working in London as a medical officer running family and children’s clinics in Marleybone.

After the war they moved to Coventry where she did locum work in casualty. Following the break-up of her marriage she returned to medicine full time, taking a number of locum jobs until she joined the Strathpeffer Practice in Ross-shire in 1961 where she became a much respected and loved doctor covering a scattered rural area and driving an average 100 miles daily.

There she met Rorie, 4th Earl of Cromartie, and they married in 1962 enjoying 27 very happy years before he died in 1989.

Billy adapted to this new and unexpected role with great tact and commitment, bringing Castle Leod back to life as a family home and focal point in the local community, a venue for concerts and charitable fundraising activities.

She was a keen sportswoman, playing tennis and lacrosse for Leeds University. She was honorary president of the Scottish Ladies Climbing Club.

Ben Vrackie was her first climb as a child and also her last at 75.

She had a wide ranging interest in the arts and music, supporting the Strathpeffer Pavilion and Eden Court Theatre, performing in the Strathpeffer Amateur Operatic Society, and was the first President of NADFAS.

Although after her second marriage she felt the roles of Countess, wife of the MacKenzie Clan Chief and continued GP practice to be incompatible, she put her medical background, intelligence and common sense to good use, providing wise leadership for many years on the Highland Hospital Board, as president of the Ross and Cromarty Red Cross and of the District Nurses.

She leaves behind a wide circle of friends and admirers of diverse ages and backgrounds.

She is survived by her two sons, Nigel and Roderick, by five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.