Obituary: Marion Morton, teacher, campaigner and Deputy Lord Provost

Marion Morton
Marion Morton
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Born: 31 October, 1934, in Glasgow. Died: 11 September, 2013, in Edinburgh, aged 78

Marion Morton, who has died at the age of 78, had already worked for a short spell with Lothian Regional Council before Scottish local government was reorganised in 1995. When the regional and district councils were replaced by single tier councils she was elected to represent the Fountainbridge area on Edinburgh City Council.

In 2003 she surprised colleagues by announcing that she did not intend to seek re-election. By then she had served four years as Deputy Lord Provost.

Straightforward, with a very direct manner but also very generous in nature, Mrs Morton was very well regarded by the council’s officers.

In 1998 she became the city’s licensing convener and later took charge of the council’s race and equality sub-committee which was set up following the report of the Macpherson enquiry into the death of the teenager Stephen Lawrence.

As a former teacher herself, she was particularly interested in the work of the council’s education committee and involved in the appointment of head teachers.

Former Lord Provosts paid warm tributes to her. Lesley Hinds said: “Marion was a councillor whom you could always rely on to give you honest advice and support. I never heard her say a bad word about anyone.”

Eric Milligan said: “Marion was my deputy and stood in for me on occasions. I had no hesitation about this as I knew Marion’s warm personality, intelligence and willingness to do a good job would be recognised.”

Mark Lazarowicz, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith described Mrs Morton as “strongly committed to her constituents and to public service who was always kind, courteous and considerate but also firm in her views and principles”.

Marion Morton’s roots lay in the west. She was brought up in Greenock, where her father was rector of Greenock Academy, and educated at Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow and the University of Glasgow where she graduated with honours in English Language and Literature. She then undertook teacher training at Jordanhill College. She started her teaching career in Eastwood Senior Secondary in 1957, and later taught in Woodside and Drumchapel.

In 1957 she married Andrew Morton, at the time minister of Moncrieff Parish Church in East Kilbride. In 1974 the Mortons moved to London when Andrew joined the staff of the British Council of Churches. Mrs Morton continued her teaching career in London, where she was head of English at Charles Edward Brooke Grammar School and then Rowan High School.

When the Mortons returned to Scotland in 1982, she became principal teacher of English at Camelon High School in Falkirk.

Both socialism and pacifism (though she was suspicious of all “isms”) were part of Marion Morton’s DNA, which explains why she found her natural political home in the Labour Party and the natural expression of her religious convictions in the Quaker movement.

What attracted her was how Quakers would sit lightly with specific doctrines and the absence of what she considered to be inflexible religious organisation.

She believed that doctrinal prose was inferior to the poetry of religious insight. She would have agreed that bad religion crushes ambiguity; good religion cherishes the mystery.

At various times she served Quakerism as elder, pastoral overseer, assistant clerk of the Quakers’ area meeting and clerk of their annual Scotland-wide meeting. For three years from 2003 she represented the south-east of Scotland at what (harking back to the persecution of Quakers in the 16th century) was called the Meeting of Sufferers, effectively the monthly executive meeting of the Quakers’ annual Scottish-wide Assemblies. Alan Davies, the spokesman for Edinburgh Quakers, said: “One would be hard pushed to find anyone who had served the Society of Quakers as faithfully, cheerfully and with as much wisdom as Marion.”

Marion Morton was a member of the visiting committee of Saughton Prison, which heard prisoners’ complaints in the days before the creation of prison inspectors.

The former Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Very Rev Dr Andrew McLellan said: “Marion and I had several conversations about conditions for prisoners and her traditional Quaker commitment to the decent treatment of prisoners, which went all the way back to Elizabeth Fry, burned brightly.”

She was also a former chair of the Edinburgh and Lothian Refugee Forum.

She was someone who focused on the most disadvantaged, not only in her politics but in her involvement in education with a particular concern for pupils with learning difficulties. As a prison visitor she took a special interest in those prisoners who are most hated: paedophiles and murderers.

Though always a strong internationalist, she was a determined socialist who intended to vote for an independent Scotland. Someone whose pacifism was always militant (in what is a particularly Scottish version of pacifism) she was a strong supporter of the women’s protest at Greenham Common.

When the protesters were removed, she began shaking the boundary fence, and there were those who said that if everyone had followed her example the fence would have been destroyed.

As something of a romantic herself, she loved the Romantic poets, and she was an ideal person to represent the city of Edinburgh on the Walter Scott Society. Both her outlook on life and social and political commitment were summed up in the later words of William Blake that whoever “would do good to another, must do it in minute particulars”.

She enjoyed reading and the theatre and is survived by her husband Rev Dr Andrew Morton, two sons and two daughters.