Obituary: Betty Brown MBE, Melrose community stalwart whose great joy was in working with guide dog puppies

Betty Brown, right, with, from left, Rosheen Milner, puppy Uri and sister Alison Brown
Betty Brown, right, with, from left, Rosheen Milner, puppy Uri and sister Alison Brown
Share this article
Have your say

Betty Brown MBE, businesswoman and puppy walker. Born: 26 March, 1926, in Galashiels. Died: 18 May, 2019, in Melrose, aged 93.

Betty Brown was the epitome of a ­community ­stalwart: dependable, ­steadfast, redoubtable and hardworking, always devoted to her cause.

Modest and matter of fact, she would also probably have argued that she wasn’t ­anything special, let alone a local personality. But an MBE in 2001 for services to the ­community, in particular for her immeasurable contribution to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, tells an altogether ­different story.

Along with her late sister ­Alison she raised many ­hundreds of thousands of pounds for the organisation and helped to transform the lives of scores of visually impaired people, preparing almost 100 puppies for their vital role.

Only fewer than 15 of her canine charges ever failed to make the grade, an outcome that she accepted with her typical down-to-earth philosophy, observing:”Well, it’s the same with people, some just don’t like hard work!”

Her own work ethic was unquestionable. She was born into an adventurous family – her father was a tweed ­manufacturer, too old for active service in the Great War but who drove ambulances and went to France.

She was educated at Oxenfoord Castle girls’ boarding school outside Edinburgh and developed a practical, no-nonsense approach to life and a deep love and understanding of animals. On leaving school she immediately embarked on caring for Galashiels children whose fathers were fighting in the Second World War.

An excellent horsewoman, in 1947 she was an attendant to the Braw Lass in the Galashiels Common Riding and would later run a riding stable.

Post-war she travelled to her grandmother’s native Canada and visited Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising. Back home she took on Chainbridge Farm in Melrose where she had cows, chickens, horses and ponies and established her riding school, teaching youngsters to ride and care for the ponies.

Later, she and Alison established a market gardening business at Greenyards, next to Melrose rugby ground, where they supplied plants for, and supported, Melrose in Bloom. Miss Brown also supported the Melrose Festival and, in the days when children rode at the back of the cavalcade, she took charge on her horse Misty, shepherding the less experienced riders and earning a cup in recognition of being the oldest rider.

She and Alison, who had an older brother Colin and a sister Eelin, began their work with Guide Dogs in 1966, after she read in a newspaper that there was an urgent need to instil basic obedience in potential guide dogs. Having been ­surrounded by dogs all her life, she relished the opportunity.

Her first pup, a black Labrador named Jeannie, was ­followed by 97 others. The dogs would be taken round the shops and familiarised with traffic, people and youngsters, even accompanying the sisters to church.

Although parting with them at the end of their basic training was often difficult, there was little time for sentimentality before the next puppy arrived.

Puppy training supervisor Rosheen Milner, described her as “one of the most prolific and longest-serving puppy walkers in the long history of Guide Dogs” whose contribution was incalculable.

In 2010, Guide Dogs invited her and her sister to lay the foundation stone at the new National Breeding Centre in Leamington Spa. When the silver mortar trowel she had used in the ceremony was presented to her, with a flash of her trademark humour she commented it would be useful for removing the evidence of the dogs from her lawn.

Miss Brown, who had also been involved in the Girl Guides as her local Brown Owl and District Guide ­Commissioner for Melrose and Roxburghshire, was a key part of Melrose in Bloom. When she received the local organisation’s chairman’s award it was said that without her, “Melrose in Bloom could not function.”

Latterly she cared for ­Alison, who died in 2017, and was greatly helped through the last couple of years by two retired guide dogs, Hattie and Wilma.

She is survived by her ­extended family including six great-great nieces and ­nephews.

Alison Shaw