Obituary: Priscilla Lorimer, tireless worker for the community wherever she lived

Priscilla Johnston Lorimer, community activist. Born 3 February, 1926 in Sedbergh, Cumbria. Died 17 November, 2017 in Strathtummel, aged 91.

Priscilla Lorimer
Priscilla Lorimer

Priscilla Lorimer was a dynamo of a woman whose decision to give up a career in medicine for love did not stifle her ability to make her mark in myriad ways.

She enhanced the lives of ­countless people, successfully protesting against numerous controversial proposals while also supporting her husband’s publishing business, raising a family and championing ­Edinburgh’s heritage.

When she moved to Perthshire, she became a leading light in the community there, one of her successes being ‘Priscilla’s Train’, an early morning ­service from Blair Atholl to Edinburgh, and the co-founding of the Pitlochry Station Bookshop, an award-winning fundraising enterprise.

The redoubtable, sometimes fiery Mrs Lorimer was the daughter of a classics master turned vicar who held the chaplaincy at Gordonstoun during the Second World War. She was educated at St Brandon’s, Bristol and went up to St Anne’s College, Oxford in 1945 to study medicine, inspired by her maternal grandparents who were a GP and a nurse.

There she fell in love with ­Robin Lorimer, the Scottish editor and publisher, then also at Oxford. They married in Edinburgh in 1947.

She graduated with a first MB degree but did not ­pursue her ambitions in medicine. Over the next decade she had five children and became a resourceful ­homemaker, teaching herself pattern cutting, dressmaking and upholstery.

She was also the mainstay of her husband’s publishing business, whose projects included founding Southside Publishers and the publication, by a charitable trust, of the New Testament in Scots, launched by the actor and commentator Tom Fleming.

She and her husband were renowned for regular lunches and impromptu parties where poets, artists, writers, musicians and judges congregated. In addition, she was landlady for a time to distinguished lodgers, including the Scottish writer, artist and gardener Ian Hamilton Finlay.

While surrounded socially by some of the country’s most able minds, she was also working as a teacher of biology at a crammer, as an interviewer for the Medical Research Council, focusing on mental health issues in new towns, and as a general organiser of Scotland’s ­Gardens Scheme.

She also canvassed for the ­Liberal party and was instrumental in setting up a society in Edinburgh to fight some of the wilder planning proposals of the 1970s, including a massive inner ring road. A leading light in the Cockburn Association, a charity working to preserve and enhance Edinburgh’s heritage and cityscape, she was also involved in numerous community projects, such as tree planting in Craigmillar, communal cleaning of the Niddry Burn, improving playgrounds in Piershill and was briefly a playleader on a holiday play scheme, which was then a ­pioneering initiative.

After the death of her ­husband’s friend, the poet ­Sydney Goodsir Smith, she helped launch The New Auk Society in his memory which resulted in a book of Goodsir Smith’s drawings and poems. She was a member of the WL Lorimer Trust that brought Macbeth in Scots to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

By the mid 1980s she had retired to highland Perthshire where, once again, she threw herself into community activities, particularly when Pitlochry station was threatened with cuts in staff hours. She led a campaign which prompted the formation of a station user group of which she was convenor for many years. Then, when the community was challenged to find a use for empty rooms in the station, she helped to inaugurate a second-hand bookshop which began as a stall on the platform and has since expanded into two rooms, winning the Voluntary Fundraising Group of the Year award and seeing takings approach £250,000.

She also lobbied for an early train from Blair Atholl to arrive in Edinburgh before 9.30am. The 7.12am Blair Atholl-Edinburgh service, affectionately dubbed Priscilla’s Train, began in 2008. She was on board, along with MSP John Swinney, and the service was later extended to start from Inverness at 5.36am.

Mrs Lorimer, who sat on the local community council for many years, sang in a local choir and forged friendships with a wide spectrum of people, her age proving no barrier to her ability to engage with others. She continued to enjoy life in her garden to the end.

Predeceased by her husband and daughter Janet, she is survived by her children Kaitie, Will, May and Christina, five grandchildren and four-great grandchildren.