Obituary: Ruth Sinclair MBE, children’s charity volunteer

Born: 27 September, 1927, in Edinburgh. Died: 22 March, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 86

Ruth Sinclair: Industrious charity worker and doughty fighter against child neglect and abuse

Ruth Sinclair was a pocket dynamo whose determination to help vulnerable youngsters became a lifelong passion.

She championed and served the charity now known as Children 1st for the vast majority of her adult life, from fundraising for its League of Pity as a young woman to becoming senior vice-chair, dispensing her clear views and valuable experience with a natural intelligence and wit – and her renowned hospitality with enthusiasm.

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Despite being a busy mother raising four boys she also found time to support the establishment of the Children’s Panel, the work of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and her local church, latterly Edinburgh’s Palmerston Place Church, for which she worked selflessly.

Practical, an excellent organiser and always buzzing with activity, she ran a bed and breakfast from her home, hosted fund­raising coffee mornings and tackled every DIY job around the house in addition to being a green-fingered gardener and superb cook. She even acquired her own assay mark through a silversmithing course – she was the embodiment of the adage, if you want something done, ask a busy person.

Edinburgh-born, she was the daughter of an oil worker whose job took him to various parts of the world. As a result she experienced life in many different environments: in Shetland where she stayed with her grandparents, in Edinburgh where she went to the school in Queen Street, later known as Mary Erskine’s, and then in Kirkuk in Iraq with her parents. Part of her education took place in Jerusalem and Beirut and then in Cape Town where she was sent after the outbreak of the Second World War.

She left school at the end of the war and returned to the Scottish capital where she went to Edinburgh University. After graduation she did some social work and some teaching, married her husband George, a teacher whom she had met while at university, and settled down to family life. George worked at Stirling High and the couple lived at Bridge of Allan, where their first two sons were born, before her husband’s work took them to locations across Scotland.

In 1957 they moved to Portree on Skye where their third and fourth sons were born. A few years later they had a spell in Dundee before heading to Troon in 1962. Wherever she lived she became involved in the local community and church and during this time she chaired the local committee for a Church of Scotland care home in Ayr.

Moving back to Dundee in 1969, Mrs Sinclair supported both the Children’s Panel, which was just coming into existence, and a local Citizens’ Advice Bureau. When the family settled in Edinburgh in the mid-1970s she continued her service with the Children’s Panel and was able to commit more fully to the work of the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, (RSSPCC) an organisation she had previously supported through supporting its League of Pity, the forerunner to the charity’s schools’ fundraising efforts today.

She became an RSSPCC board member and, as one former chairman, David Stobie OBE, recalled: “There was no more doughty fighter for the prevention of abuse and neglect of children in Scotland.”

Mrs Sinclair became involved in the Children’s Shelter in Edinburgh’s Polwarth Terrace, both fundraising and helping with activities with the youngsters, and supported an outdoor centre in Peebles where she could see the positive changes that could be achieved by nurturing children in a caring environment.

She served in myriad ways, on governance and staffing committees and through practical efforts, becoming vice-chair in the 1980s and then senior vice-chair of the charity in the 1990s, during which time it became Children 1st. In June 1998 she was made an MBE for her services to the care of children and received the honour at Buckingham Palace.

The church was also a major focus in her life and on arrival in Edinburgh the family joined the Palmerston Place congregation where she was on the congregational board and the property and finance team. Never afraid to speak out, she was determined to make the church more accessible, arguing the need for a lift, and became chair of the pastoral and social committee. Widowed in 1987, a couple of years later she was made a church elder and encouraged other elders to train to handle bereavement and other pastoral issues.

While her contribution to charitable activities was extensive – she also volunteered at a St Columba’s Hospice shop – the core of her life was her home and family. She ran a bed and breakfast, keeping up with some of her guests for years, cared for her mother and was devoted to her four boys, their wives and eight grandchildren. Each son lived in a different country – Scotland, England, France and the US – but she organised a week-long family gathering each New Year, planned months in advance, to ensure their strong family bonds were maintained, and visited America last autumn, despite failing health.

Predeceased by her husband and eldest son Kenneth, who died in 2008, she is survived by her sons Colin, Gavin and Malcolm, her brother Glenn and extended family.