Obituary: Margaret Thomson OBE, Chief Executive Nurse for Scotland, church elder and patron of the arts

Margaret Wallace Thomson OBE, Chief Nursing Officer. Born: 8 June 1927 in Edinburgh. Died: 23 August 2019 in Edinburgh, aged 92

Margaret Wallace Thomson was born in Edinburgh on 8 June 1927. She spent all of her childhood in Scotland, mostly in Edinburgh. Like many who lived during the war, Margaret as a child experienced food rations, air raid drills, and being evacuated from the city. Amidst the uncertainty and threat of wartime devastation, she showed resilience and the ability to maintain a positive outlook. This formative time helped shape her into the formidable woman she became.

Margaret attended Edinburgh Ladies College (later known as The Mary Erskine School). She thoroughly enjoyed her schooldays, and throughout her life was a proud and active member of the Former Pupils Guild.

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As a young adult, Margaret applied the same focus and dedication from her schooling to what became an extremely successful nursing career. She began her nurse training in The Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, where she excelled.

She spoke of being emotionally affected by caring for newborns and children with severe illnesses. However, she also talked proudly about being involved in exciting new medical developments which improved the care of many of these children.

After finishing an initial placement in the children’s hospital, Margaret moved to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to undertake her adult nurse training, after which she studied midwifery in London. Soon after she qualified, she was invited back to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, where she was promoted to Sister – the youngest Sister appointed at the time, at the age of 25. Margaret enjoyed this role, which prompted her further studies and eventual position as a Nurse Tutor at the Royal for many years.

It had been Margaret’s wish to work abroad, so she took a position teaching in Nigeria at a University Compound School of Nursing for three years. As ever, she took great care in her work there and recalled it as being an interesting and stimulating experience.

After Nigeria, Margaret worked as Principal Tutor in Belfast before returning to Edinburgh for the remainder of her career. One of her favourite stories came from her time in Belfast, where she found many of her students writing “D.V.” at the end of their exam papers. When she realised that this was short for a Latin phrase meaning “God willing,” she replied with all the vigour of a good teacher, “passing your exams is up to you, not God”.

Back in Edinburgh, Margaret was appointed Inspector of Nurse Training at the General Nursing Council. Further appointments included Education Officer at the council, Deputy Registrar and Registrar, her career culminating in the position of Chief Executive Nurse for Scotland.

In recognition of this distinguished career, and her outstanding contribution to nursing in Scotland, Margaret received an OBE.

Away from nursing, family was incredibly important to Margaret, and she was very involved in the lives of her nieces and nephews. She loved to travel, usually with her nursing friends, and would bring back unique souvenirs for the children. She travelled to the four corners of the globe and particularly enjoyed going on cruises with the National Trust.

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In addition to travelling, Margaret had numerous interests and hobbies. She loved to attend concerts, especially performances by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and took part in other activities and events such as Woodland Walks, National Trust tours, and many Edinburgh Art and Book Festivals.

She was a regular patron of the Royal Botanic Gardens and played golf leisurely at the Merchant’s Golf Club. Margaret was also a member of the Royal Overseas League, the Former Pupils Guild of Mary Erskine’s School, the St Margaret’s Chapel Guild and the Soroptimists, a worldwide volunteer organisation for women who work to improve the lives of women and girls throughout the world.

Margaret lived out her Christian faith, being an active member of her local congregation at Palmerston Place Church. This year she received recognition for being a long-serving elder of 40 years. The previous minister, John Chalmers, said recently of Margaret, “she was one of the most faithful, reliable and thoughtful elders I’ve ever worked with”.

Margaret celebrated her 92nd birthday in June, and only began to experience a significant decline in her health over the past five years. Despite this she maintained as much of her independence as possible, and she got out and about daily. Even up until her most recent hospitalisation, she was out enjoying the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Margaret’s nieces and nephews remember their aunt with huge fondness, describing her as a proper Edinburgh lady, who was kind and loyal to her family and her friends. She was always generous in her giving to charities, and in the giving of her time. Margaret handled life’s adversities with great fortitude, while maintaining a deeply compassionate spirit. Even with her numerous and significant achievements, she never boasted and was a truly humble person.

On Friday 23 August 2019, Margaret Thomson passed away peacefully at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. She was predeceased by her twin brother, Bernard, and her younger brother, Norman.

Susie Beattie