Obituary: Nicola Barry, Scots journalist and author

Nicola Barry, journalist and author. Born: 27 April 1950 in Edinburgh. Died: January 20, 2017 in Edinburgh, aged 66.

Obituary: Nicola Barry
Obituary: Nicola Barry

Nicola Barry, who has died after a long illness in Edinburgh, was a journalist and author who won a vast number of awards for her work as a columnist, features writer and social affairs commentator. She was 66.

Septicaemia caused the organ failure which took Nicola’s life in the Western General Hospital, where she had been undergoing treatment since October last year.

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News of Nicola Barry’s death came as a shock to her husband, Alastair Murray, a fellow journalist, and the many colleagues who worked with her on Scotland’s leading newspapers.

Nicola was a spectacularly good writer who won 27 press awards and was Columnist of the Year three years in a row in the Scottish and UK Press Awards.

She was attractive, intelligent and effervescent. Her parents, Monica Craig and Claude Barry, were both doctors. Her father was a consultant anaesthetist at the Western General and her mother, who had been a debutante and was presented at Court, retired from medicine when they married.

Nicola’s grandfather, Sir Maurice Craig, a consultant psychiatrist, was appointed as Physician for Psychological Medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London. He was psychiatrist to Virginia Woolf for 22 years, and to the future King Edward VIII.

Nicola Barry, who was educated at the Holy Family convent school in Littlehampton, Sussex, and graduated from St Andrews University, was perhaps the most widely read and influential Scottish woman journalist of her generation.

Despite her success, she retained a wry, self-deprecating personality, free of affectation, and was passionate about women’s and children’s issues.

Asked about her politics, she said: “I would love to be able to say I was brought up in Ireland, in an independent country and subsequently, and know exactly what I am talking about.

“However, my only real link to that beautiful country is familial, a vaguely remembered grandfather who wore tweed trousers and smelled of pipe tobacco. His name was David Barry, Professor of Physiology at University College, Cork.

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“He married an exotic Parisienne called Yvonne. I am a true mongrel: a quarter Irish, a quarter French, a smattering of Guernsey – mother’s side – but made in Scotland.”

Barry was unimpressed by Scottish politicians – “Sorry to say, I have yet to hear anything persuasive from any political figure.

“In Scotland, women are seen as a ‘problem’ group; tantamount to people with special needs. This strategy distracts attention from the gender hierarchies which exist in all our political parties.

“On the campaign trail, it’s: Oh, there’s a woman, quick, kiss a baby then she’ll vote for me.’”

Barry maintained: “Many grey-suited politicians still believe women are better off barefoot, pregnant and tied to the kitchen sink – leaving the voting on matters such as independence, the serious stuff, to the guys.”

She added: “The big question is: why are so many women turning their backs on politics? Could it possibly be because politics has turned its back on them?

“Politics is still a man’s game. Forget the Suffragettes. Everyone else has. The trouble is that apathetic voters – women in this case –allow the macho and, occasionally, downright pig-ignorant to stay in power.”

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A nun who ran a charity in Edinburgh was Nicola Barry’s mentor and guiding light.

She helped the late Sister Margaret Duncan, who worked tirelessly for Edinburgh Direct Aid in Leith, to raise funds for Bosnian children who had been orphaned and disabled as a result of the war there.

During her newspaper career, Nicola Barry was always driven by a passion to help the underdog, to give a voice to those who had none.

In 2005, she completed the MPhil in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, going on to write her autobiography, Mother’s Ruin, which was published in 2007.

Beginning with the words: “I was born drunk”, the book tells the harrowing story of a dysfunctional middle-class family destroyed by alcohol.

Barry’s own parents were addicts, a battle she herself fought and eventually came through as a survivor, having found the inner strength to break away from the demons which haunted her.

Professor Willy Maley, her tutor on the course, said: “Nicola’s big-hearted personality, infectious smile and irrepressible humour hid the fact that she had had a hard time growing up, and as a young woman in a man’s newspaper world she’d had to deal with all kinds of demons, some of them in shirts and ties.

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“She started writing a wickedly funny account of her experience of her first job and male-dominated tabloid culture but dug deeper and shifted to recounting her childhood and her struggle with alcoholism – her parents’ then her own.

“Mother’s Ruin is a brilliant book. It started life as a novel and morphed into a memoir.

That journey was part of Nicola’s road to recovery, a road she was still on when she was taken away far too early. Nicola found comfort later in life with her beloved Alastair and her equally beloved Scottie dog, Jura.

“She was one of those people whom the phrase ‘force of nature’ fits like a glove. She was a real force for good in a world increasingly full of demons.”

Nicola Barry went on to write a novel. Fat! So? delves into a subject which haunts millions of women – their weight.

It tells the story of a television presenter who, despite being beautiful and hugely successful, is preoccupied with losing weight – a desire which, eventually, takes a terrible toll.

Before she became seriously ill, Nicola Barry was researching a second novel, about warring sisters.

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Tributes to Nicola have poured in from former colleagues and friends in newspaper offices in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh.

Nicola Barry is survived by her husband, Alastair Murray and his daughters, Jane and Hazel.

Her funeral will take place at Warriston Crematorium, Edinburgh, at 1pm on Tuesday, 31 January and will be followed by a Service of Thanksgiving in Colinton Parish Church at 2.15pm.