Obituary: Margaret Stoddart, poet, pianist and bagpipe community stalwart

Margaret Stoddart, postal worker, painter, poet and pianist. Born: 28 October 1922 in Edinburgh. Died: 7 March 2021 in Edinburgh, aged 98

Margaret Stoddart was married to Edinburgh's 'Lone Piper', George Stoddart BEM

Margaret Stoddart was 98 years old when she passed and while she did not succumb to Covid, it certainly had an effect on the last year of her life. A vibrant, energetic and social animal was severely curtailed by care home regulations and the lack of human interaction. With her Scots sense of humour she likened herself to Mary Queens of Scots, as she felt she was being held prisoner by the powers at be.

She was born at 45 Comely Bank Avenue, Edinburgh and that was to remain her family home for the vast majority of her life. She was the only child from the marriage of Florence (nee Crombie) and James Sutherland, and was educated just around the corner at Flora Stevenson school in Stockbridge.

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It was there that her love of the arts, music and politics flourished. She took a keen interest in many things, including amateur dramatics, painting, writing poetry and music. She loved all things Highland and was, in particular, an avid fan of the Highland bagpipe. She, of course, came from good stock – Sutherland by name and Sutherland by nature.

Her father, James Sutherland, was born at Rosskeen, Ross-shire and he joined the 1st Seaforth Highlanders as a piper in 1883, serving 21 years with the Regiment. He became Pipe Major in 1893 but was transferred to the 3rd Militia Battalion in 1885. In 1912 he was made Pipe Major of the 5th Royal Scots (T.F.), Queen’s Edinburgh. In 1915 he was rejected for active service and transferred to the reserves, where he became Pipe Major of the 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal Scots. He was also instructor to the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society from 1910-1914.

James composed the pipe march, The Pipers Cave, a recording of which was so ably played by piper Robert Scott at Margaret’s funeral service.

Margaret achieved Certificates in Elocution with the London School of Music to Honours level and her professional career took off in the Post Office, with Margaret progressing to chief supervisor in the telecoms section.

Margaret continued to paint, write poetry and play the piano while maintaining a keen interest in her Scottish heritage. She was a life member of the 1745 Association and was to become an integral part of several bagpipe Societies, The Piobaireachd Society, The Highland Pipers’ and The Eagle Pipers’

Her interest in the pipes, while in her blood, was fuelled when she met and eventually married Pipe Major George Stoddart BEM in 1972.

George Stoddart was, of course, famous in his own right and was for many years the lone piper when the Edinburgh Military Tattoo first started.

He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion The Cameron Highlanders at age 14 as a boy piper and remained with them until shortly before the start of the Second World War, when he transferred to the Royal Scots Fusiliers as Pipe Major. He also served as Pipe Major with the 5th Scottish Parachute Regiment during the war and was with the Liverpool Scottish for a short time. After the war, he was posted to Edinburgh as the Lowland Brigade Pipe Major. In 1959 he retired from the Army and opened a shop with Robert G Hardie in the Lawnmarket, selling Scottish items.

On the day of their marriage the headline in the newspaper appropriately read “Lone piper alone no more”. Margaret became a piping stalwart, taking an active part in proceedings, and was for many years secretary of the Eagle Pipers’ Society.

The Eagle Pipers’ annual bus trips to Blair Atholl, to visit the Atholl Highlanders, were legendary and the bus broke down three years in a row. Margaret and her good friend, and fellow Eagle, Betty Dingwall, were the bus entertainers. The duo would hold court and keep everyone entertained with a mix of well-known songs and some that they had written themselves. They were heady days and the world was full of music, fun and entertainment.

George sadly passed in 1990 but Margaret remained a force to be reckoned with. She, Bunty MacLellan and Anne Anderson – all piping widows – became a social trio and went on several road trips together. And a formidable troupe they were, not exactly shy and retiring!

Margaret outlived them all, staying in the family flat at Comely Bank until she could no longer cope with the stairs. She moved into a local care home, from where she kept in regular touch with family and friends. She remained bright and alert, but 2020 undoubtedly took its toll.

Lisa Scott, who gave the eulogy at her Auntie Margaret’s funeral, said, “Isolation and the lack of human contact hit Margaret hard and the onset of dementia took hold. Margaret was a thoroughly modern woman who was probably well ahead of her time. ‘This is your life, live it as you see fit but take care of the people who care for you’ was one of her mantras. She cared deeply for people in her wide and expansive circle. Never sending you off from her home without a hug and a kiss. She was an awesome, caring, beautiful, thought-provoking and interesting person.”

Margaret’s passing will leave the Sutherland Clan, family and friends with a huge void to fill. Covid funeral restrictions saw a small personal family tribute, with friends being able to join online, but when the shackles are off we will all raise a glass and celebrate a life lived to the full.

Ninety-eight years of age. A damned good innings. Well played Margaret. We will all miss you.

EUAN ANDERSON

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