Obituary: Anne Elizabeth Watson

Born: 13 July 1944 in Blaydon on Tyne. Died: 1 July 2016 in Edinburgh , aged 71.

Labour Party canvasser was a much loved teacher and born communicator. Picture: Contributed
Labour Party canvasser was a much loved teacher and born communicator. Picture: Contributed

The Labour Party may be going through tribulations just now but without stalwarts such as Anne Watson it would have struggled to exist in the first place – both because of her staunchly held beliefs in equality and social justice but also because of her tireless canvassing particularly at election time, latterly in Edinburgh in 2010 for Ian Murray MP for Edinburgh South and most recently for Daniel Johnson MSP for Edinburgh Southern.

It was fitting therefore at her funeral service at Christ Church in Morningside the voluntary, at her request, was a rendition of the Red Flag.

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Born in Blaydon on Tyne in the northeast of England Anne, following the tradition of that working class town went into full-time work at the age of 16, in spite of being bright and worthy of a grammar school place, in order to bring money into the family, initially working as a clerical officer with Northern Gas Board.

In 1965 she married Elsdon, a chemist with electricity generating boards and for a while she concentrated on raising her two children Jennie and Elsdon Mark. Once the children were at school however she benefited from a government training grant and gained qualifications in shorthand and typing and English which in turn enabled her to gain a teaching job in Blackfyne Comprehensive in Consett, County Durham. Thereafter, in 1979 , she joined the Business and General Studies Department of Hebburn Technical College in South Tyneside teaching secretarial and administration skills then, as the college merged with South Shield Marine College into South Tyneside College, she taught English as a second language. She gained a reputation for being a great teacher and was much loved by her students whilst being universally popular with her colleagues, not least because of her sometimes wicked sense of humour. One thing she would poke fun at was pomposity on the part of others.

In the process of her TEFL teaching she met people who had come to Tyneside from all over the world – an experience which left her horrified at any notion that migrants might be sent home, against their will, from Britain. And in the recent referendum debates she was a resolute Remainer in support of the European Union but not of the separatism of an independent Scotland.

Anne retired from teaching in 1994 when she was 50, partly because of her health – since the age of 16 she had been suffering from the rare progressive spinal disease syringeomyelia. But also to accompany Elsdon, now that he had retired, on worldwide travels. Anne was a born communicator who connected with people wherever she went. Trips included France, Spain, South America and India. One task she has left Elsdon with is to track down a houseboy she befriended whilst on holiday in Goa in India in order to tell him Anne had remembered him in her will.

In retirement Anne was also able to develop her first love – art. She gained an A level in Art at Newcastle College, then a 2:1 honours degree in fine art from Sunderland University. She was active drawing and painting and making colourful printed scarves, the latter of which she sold on a commercial basis to a range of outlets.

As her disease progressed Anne and Elsdon moved to Edinburgh in 2006 to be close to her daughter Jennie and her two children. She was in her element with the proliferation of galleries the capital city has to offer. She was also attracted to and well able to appreciate the impressive architecture of the Episcopalian Christ Church of which she became an active member. As well as being a regular attender of services, she took the opportunity to exercise her considerable intellect by engaging in discussions in the Sunday lecture series and as a lover of literature took the Book Group particularly seriously, coming to meetings well prepared with notes.

Blaydon and the surrounding areas of Tyneside are Labour strongholds and Anne had long been an active supporter of that party and particularly of Elsdon who became a town councillor himself and currently holds the honorary position of Alderman. In Edinburgh, her favourite job for her party was telephone canvassing although she gained something of a reputation for the length of time she spent on each call, so interested was she in who she was calling.

She was values not personality driven in her politics so she was not a Jeremy Corbyn supporter. Indeed as a fully paid up member of the Labour Party she exercised her right to vote in the last leadership contest by voting for Yvette Cooper and no-one could ever accuse her of being a “Corbynite” because she was not, as her husband pointed out, “ite anything.”

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Sadly her disease got the better of her. Syringeomyelia involves as cyst forming on the spinal cord which expands and elongates along the cord over time resulting increasing degrees of pain and disability. As she became confined to a wheelchair in her last couple of years of life the disability was there for all to see but that never stopped her from showing concern and interest in other people.

Anne is survived by her husband Elsdon, her daughter Jennie and son Elsdon Mark and grandchildren Victoria, Rebecca, Joel, Polly and Daisy.