Obituary: Marion Teresa Brewis CVO, Lord Lieutenant of Wigtownshire

Marion Brewis CVO: Formidable Lord Lieutenant of Wigtownshire  who had a beautiful singing voice
Marion Brewis CVO: Formidable Lord Lieutenant of Wigtownshire who had a beautiful singing voice
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Born: 5 September, 1939, in High Wycombe. Died: 31 December, 2014, in Stranraer, aged 75

Terry Brewis was one of an indomitable breed of woman who refused to be unnerved by a series of challenges that would have left lesser mortals reeling.

Whether it was poverty, illness or bereavement, she bounced back, scything a path through life that took her from an orphanage child to representative of Her Majesty the Queen.

Born just two days after Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, she came from humble roots, the daughter of hospital porter Robert Anderson and his wife Ann. Her early years were spent in the care of nuns in an Irish orphanage after her mother, devastated by the death of Terry’s infant twin brother and bereft of her husband who was abroad serving his country in the RAF, was unable to cope alone with her child.

Terry would subsequently maintain that she rather enjoyed life at the orphanage and that, when her father returned at the end of the war, she was not particularly enthralled with the prospect of being reunited with parents whom she barely knew. However, when a younger brother Robert came along, she became a devoted and loving big sister.

Educated at the Convent of Sacred Heart High School in Hammersmith, she was a bright and talented young woman who, at 16, won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study the cello. But because her family was so poor she did not take up the opportunity and went to work instead as a switchboard operator.

However, she went on to pass the civil service exams and joined the Department of Health where she worked her way up to become an executive officer, a role that involved her working with many eminent people of the time including former Health Secretary, Home Secretary and Chancellor Kenneth Clarke – “impressive” – and former junior health minister Edwina Currie – “ghastly”.

During her time there she also met her future husband, Francis Brewis, a fellow civil servant ten years her junior. They married in 1981 and, after his father John’s death, the couple moved to the family home at 18th-century Ardwell House near Stranraer in Wigtownshire.

Terry, who gave up her civil service career in 1989 to assist with the running of Ardwell Estates, helped her mother-in-law Faith develop the house and gardens, whose grounds are open to the public. She continued her mother-in-law’s work while always maintaining that she hated gardening.

She also served as lay chairman of the NHS Appeals Tribunal and became heavily involved in local community activities: she was a Justice of the Peace and a great supporter of many organisations including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Girl Guides, the British Legion and the Rhins of Galloway Pipe Band.

Terry, who listed her recreations as walking, singing and cooking, had a fine voice and had previously been a member of several London choirs including the Brompton Oratory, the Taverner Singers, the New London Singers and the Scuola di Chiesa. At Ardwell she supplemented the Ardwell Church choir with her beautiful singing voice which, though untrained, was on a par with those of a professional level.

In 2005 her 57-year-old brother, plate butler to the Lord Mayor of London, died of cancer, an event that had a devastating effect on his sister. It was the following year that she was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Wigtownshire. She was reportedly “flabbergasted” when her name was put forward by her friend Major Edward Orr-Ewing as his potential successor but it was a duty that she was not unfamiliar with, her late father-in-law having performed the role in the 1980s.

Over the next eight years she carried out her public duties with great skill and aplomb, sharing a love of dogs with the Queen, mixing seamlessly with all social strata and brightening the day of numerous centenarians with her hand-delivery of the Queen’s congratulatory card. She received the Princess Royal during a visit to Wigtown Agricultural Society’s 200th anniversary show in 2011 and represented the Queen the following year, taking the salute at a Garden Party in Lochinch Castle to celebrate the monarch’s diamond jubilee.

Privately, along with her husband, to whom she was a huge support, she was a generous host, entertaining company and knowledgeable about a wealth of subjects from politics to opera.

Over the years she had also proved herself to be somewhat accident-prone, if resilient, and no stranger to accident and emergency. After falling the length of the back stairs at Ardwell – while dashing to a keep fit class – and knocking herself out on the concrete floor, she drove herself to hospital, determined not to call for help.

On another occasion, after collapsing during dinner at country house she reportedly told two visiting heart surgeons where to go when they started performing CPR on her.

After being diagnosed with cancer and subsequently, in 2013, being given only a few weeks to live, she defiantly soldiered on, undergoing chemotherapy treatment that extended her life. Though the death of her husband last February left her heartbroken, she refused to let anyone down, continuing with her duties as Lord Lieutenant and fulfilling Francis’ wishes, commissioning a memorial to him in the garden.

Last November she went to Buckingham Palace to be made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and seized the chance to throw a party for her friends whom she entertained to dinner at London’s Caledonian Club.

Forthright and feisty, she had been determined to survive until 2015 and, though she didn’t quite make it, she had ultimately lived with a virulent form of leukaemia for nearly five years.

When the time came to say a final goodbye, mourners were advised affectionately, in her own inimitable style and the words of her favourite catch phrase, to “sod off” – an expression she often used when she deemed a conversation had come to its end.