Helen Oswald was an almost unstoppable force, a woman determined to succeed in everything to which she put her mind.
She threw herself into the life of her adopted home of Carnoustie, becoming central to the community, and her long-standing interest in politics took her to the heart of local government, where her wide-ranging experiences in fields ranging from nursing to benefits enhanced the lives of countless constituents.
Latterly, as Provost of Angus she took every opportunity to promote the area and had enormous belief in the potential of local communities and their people – an attitude that saw her celebrated as the “ultimate ambassador for Angus”.
She came into the world as an unscheduled home delivery for parents Flo Carrie and her husband, shipyard worker Francis, in the middle of Dundee’s worst snowstorm in living memory during the notoriously bitter winter of 1947.
One of four children, Helen attended Dundee’s Butterburn Primary and Rockwell High Schools, where she was consistently top of the class, before embarking on a varied working life that spanned a range of jobs including nursing auxiliary, estate agent, insurance lady and manager of a team in the city council’s revenue and benefits section.
As a glamorous young woman in the 1960s, with the obligatory beehive and miniskirt, she attracted the attention of one of her colleagues, Ed Oswald, and they were married at Strathmartine Church, Dundee in 1968. They settled initially in Dundee and moved to Carnoustie in 1976, where they raised their two daughters.
There she founded a local playgroup, was a Guide leader, set up a kidney charity to fundraise for a sick colleague and was instrumental in the Carnoustie’s fledgling French twinning programme.
Helen also volunteered for a range of local groups, including the Carnoustie Gala committee, and worked hard alongside local youngsters hoping to get a skatepark for the town.
This is now up and running at the seafront, along with the Sandy Sensation children’s park, for which she also campaigned, and a cafe she helped bring to the area.
Helen, who combined work with college studies to gain a qualification in public administration, was elected an SNP councillor in 1999, representing Sidlaw East before becoming one of three ward councillors for Carnoustie and District on Angus Council.
Known as a passionate, hard-working representative with an open smile and constant good-natured dedication to helping others, Helen served on every council committee and was the SNP group leader when the party was in opposition. She was also a member of numerous outside bodies including Carnoustie Golf Links management committee, the Morgan Trust, Age Concern Angus, Tayside Contracts joint committee and Tayside Valuation Board.
In addition she was a Friend of the Black Watch – she never missed Remembrance Day at the Powrie Brae memorial – a Trustee of the Scottish National War Memorial, a keen advocate of Fairtrade and was awarded recognition as a Special Friend of Alzheimer Scotland, a charity she supported following the death of her sister Margaret from the disease.
As a member of Tayside Fire and Rescue board, Helen successfully opposed plans to downgrade local cover and campaigned twice against the reduction of 24-hour, full-time cover at Balmossie Fire Station, earning the respect and gratitude of the Fire Brigades Union.
She led the SNP group in the 2012 council elections which saw them win power and form the administration. Helen subsequently became Provost of Angus. Council chief executive Richard Stiff said she always showed genuine, heartfelt concern, championed the needs of constituents and ensured that their voices were heard and their views listened to. “As Provost, Helen was the ultimate ambassador for Angus,” he said.
“She radiated enormous pride in the county and its people and used her role to celebrate and recognise the achievements of local people in all walks of life.”
Beyond her official role she was an intrepid individual with a sense of adventure: she had swum with sharks; travelled to countries from India to Australia; and driven a fire engine in a speed trial. But it was always family who were at the core of her life.
Helen was immensely proud of her daughters – one of whom, Kirsten, followed her into politics and became an SNP MP – and she adored her four grandchildren, revelling in their company and sharing a range of activities.
And so it was fitting that together they all took part in this year’s Cancer Research Race for Life in Dundee, walking the course as a family with their gran at the helm.
Helen had been diagnosed with terminal cancer the previous year and was determined to make the most of every moment.
With typical enthusiasm, she embraced fundraising and raised more than £2,000 through the race, which she completed in June. She also continued to work, undertaking her final public engagement just three weeks before she died.
Council leader Iain Gaul encapsulated Helen’s spirit when he commended her attitude since her diagnosis, saying she had behaved with courage, dignity and a desire to continue to be the best she could be.
“Nobody who knew her was surprised at this, as that is the mark of the woman she was.”
She is survived by her husband Ed, daughters Kirsten and Linsey and grandchildren Harry, Tom, Isla and Evie.