Obituary: Olive Gordon, charity worker and community activist

A much-loved charity activist who worked tirelessly across Scotland

Olive Gordon, charity worker and community activist.

Born: 3 May, 1914, in Bath, Somerset.

Died: 17 May, 201, in Livingston, aged 97.

THOUGH born and brought up in England, Olive Gordon spent three-quarters of her long and productive life around the Firth of Forth as a tireless community activist, notably on behalf of children for Dr Barnardo's and the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (RSSPCC).

Having married a Scot at the start of the Second World War, she moved to Falkirk, then to Grangemouth and on to Edinburgh where she spent the latter half of her life.

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During the post-war years of hardship and rationing, "Mrs Gordon" became a busy and much-loved figure in the Grangemouth area. Trained in domestic science, she set about revamping the local Women's Voluntary Services, organising meals-on-wheels and voluntary women's support for local hospitals.

From 1955-60, she was Civil Defence Training Officer not only for Grangemouth but also for all of Stirlingshire, again lauded for her innovations and improvements. She also set up a forum for young wives in Grangemouth, allowing them to share their problems and seek support during their meetings in St Mary's Church hall. Gordon's work in Stirlingshire led to her being headhunted in 1960 as a senior organiser for the RSSPCC, nowadays also known as Children 1st , which aims to give every child in Scotland a safe and secure childhood by protecting them from neglect or abuse.

In 1962, she was again headhunted, this time as an appeals and recruitment officer for Barnardo's Scotland, based in Edinburgh. From then until her retirement in 1975, she helped spread Barnardo's work and gather support around Scotland, travelling the country to give lectures or after-dinner speeches to organisations such as schools, universities, guilds or the Rotary Club who might offer charitable support.

From retirement into her 90s, she continued to support Barnardo's as a volunteer, helping set up its Edinburgh charity shop.

Olive Mary Edwards was born in Bath in May 1914 and attended the City of Bath School for Girls. Her family recall her saving her pocket money when she was 13 to get a flight on board a two-seater Sopwith Camel biplane, her hair streaming out from beneath an old flying helmet as she flew over the Avon Gorge and Bristol Suspension Bridge. From 1932, she studied at the highly- respected Bath College of Domestic Science, whose prospectus included "household and high-class cookery, laundry work, dressmaking, stitchery and ornamental needlework".

Graduating with distinction in 1935, she got her first job with R&A Main, demonstrating how to use its increasingly-popular gas cookers.She worked under Marguerite Gompertz, something of a Delia Smith of the time, who wrote the famous Main Cookery Book, with her own recipes, to encourage pre-war and wartime housewives to buy the cookers. It was Gordon's first experience of travelling around the country, often alone, something she would do for the rest of her career.

Booked into out-of-the-way hotels by her company, she constantly ran into problems with proprietors shocked to see an unaccompanied woman in their bars or dining rooms. She was often asked to use the back door and take her meals in her room.

It was after R&A Main posted her to Scotland, based in Falkirk, that she met and married Leslie Gordon, a Glasgow-based commercial traveller and widower with a seven-year-old son.

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Among her happiest memories was playing golf at Glenbervie club, Larbert, admiring the Ochil hills between shots. She also recalled giving a gas cooking demonstration to the Duchess of Gloucester at the British Empire Exhibition in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park in 1938.

She and her new husband would later move to his hometown of Grangemouth where they had two further sons. Her stepson Edward, now retired, set up and ran Gordon's of Bonnybridge, a major haulage business in the Falkirk area at the time; her son the Rev Bruce Gordon is a retired Episcopalian minister who preached in the parishes of Leith, Duns and Lanark; and her other son, Keith, followed his mother into charity work as Barnardo's representative for Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Borders.

The Rev Bruce Gordon was a baby during the war. He learned later that his mother used to put him and his brothers into cot-like "anti-gas containers" during German air raids - cylindrical metal cages with a rubber bag inside. "Apparently, she had to keep pumping air into them with a bulb-like pump to keep the air fresh until the 'all-clear,'" he said.

"She was a devoted woman to her stepson and her own two boys, and her domestic talents made post-war rations taste better than they otherwise could. A woman sound in wisdom and practical sense whose insights and instincts invariable proved to be right on the mark.

"She was a sensitive, highly intelligent woman, with musical ability on piano and organ, a woman who enjoyed life and company, a woman people natural warmed to.

"She was a woman of dedication, nothing too much trouble, self- effacing, selfless to the end."

Until shortly before she died, Gordon attended and served St Cuthbert's Episcopal Church in the Colinton area of Edinburgh.

Although she lived her retirement years in her beloved Edinburgh, Olive Gordon died after being taken to hospital in Livingston. Her husband Leslie died in 1998. She is survived by Bruce, Keith and Edward, seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.