Obituary: Anne Wilson Nicol, headteacher

Born: Coatbridge 25 February 1953, Died: Melrose 24 June 2016, aged 63

Anne Wilson Nicol
Anne Wilson Nicol

The life of an Edinburgh headteacher who had make a particular study of the way in which children who fail in their learning can develop behavioural challenges was celebrated at services at the Borders Crematorium and Blackhall St Columba’s Church, Edinburgh, on Monday. The services were conducted by the Very Rev. Dr Angus Morrison, Moderator of the 2015 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and he concluded his tribute with the words that “her life was devoted to others”.

Anne Wilson Gillespie was born in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, on 25 February 1953, the first child of personnel manager Adam and May Gillespie. Schooldays were in Airdrie, and Anne thought of both nursing and teaching as careers – with the lives of countless youngsters being enriched with her choice of the latter. She trained at the former Hamilton College of Education, where lifetime friendships were made, with some of these friends serving with her at her first teaching appointment at Chapelhill Primary School, Airdrie.

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Anne married the Rev Douglas Nicol in Wellwynd Church, Airdrie, on 30 September 1978, and Anne and Douglas felt privileged to have three children – Fiona, born in Dumfries, and Stuart and Calum, both born in Kilmacolm. Anne achieved so much in her lifetime, but if you had asked her what she felt her greatest achievement was, she would have said “her family”. Each of us remember a Mum who we felt was always there for us – no matter how busy she was supporting Douglas in ministry, or in her working life in education, or in church and community involvement, we felt that there was never once that we missed her attention. And when she was blessed with grandchildren she couldn’t have been more delighted. Her “five-a-side” football team, as she called them, consists of William, Max, Alex, Ben and Louis – and she loved them dearly.

Another sign of Anne’s thought for others was her suggestion that Douglas’s calling as a minister should be the “lead role” in their married life – so homes were lovingly established in Dumfries, in Kilmacolm, in Edinburgh, and in Denholm in the Scottish Borders.

But Anne’s greatest involvement in life beyond family was her contribution to education, and when she returned to teaching in Kilmacolm she embarked on a degree course with the Open University – giving particular thought to the way in which children who do not succeed in learning so often develop behavioural challenges – and this she put into practice in her teaching career in Edinburgh.

Her first post in the city was at Murrayburn Primary School, when in 1994 she was appointed as an assistant to head teacher Marion Cathro, and a colleague of Maria Plant, now the inclusion co-ordinator for the City of Edinburgh Council. Then in 1998 Anne was appointed as head teacher of Broomhouse Primary School. In 2007, seeking a fresh challenge, she moved to be the head teacher of a newly merged school in Wester Hailes – Canal View Primary – and it was from that post that she retired three years ago.

Maria Plant spoke at the funeral service in Edinburgh and paid tribute to Anne’s service on committees that sought to drive forward change, and the way in which during inspections at both Broomhouse and Canal View Primaries, Anne’s leadership and her impact on achieving progress in learning and teaching were awarded the highest possible grades – a special achievement. For her efforts Anne received some interesting invitations, such as a visit to 10 Downing Street to meet the then prime minister Tony Blair, and one to be part of a fact-finding visit to Perth, Australia, to see how “looked after” children were cared for “down under”. (“Looked after” children are those in the care of a local authority.)

Her commitment to developing the lives of children had been seen in the way she embraced the work of the Place 2 Be charity – a counselling service for youngsters who need a place of safety. She had sought the best for every child and every member of staff, and the large number of people associated with education in the city who attended the service in Edinburgh was testimony to the high regard in which her work had been held.

In her all-too-short retirement, Anne developed many of her interests – taking up golf at Minto Golf Club, reading – both novels and cookery books – and spending as much time as possible watching sport – indeed today she might be cheering on Andy Murray at Wimbleton in another place!

After a short illness, Anne died peacefully in the Borders General Hospital, and is survived by husband, Douglas, daughter Fiona (myself) and husband Fraser with children, Will, Max and Louis, older son Stuart and wife Rebecca with children, Alex and Ben, younger son, Calum, and brother David and his family in Airdrie.