Scotsman Obituaries: Ann Ferguson, Scottish engineer and businesswoman

Patricia Ann Ferguson JP, engineer and businesswoman. Born: 12 February 1936 in Dundee. Died: 24 March 2022 in Auchterarder, aged 86

For a girl who left school with few qualifications, Ann Ferguson carved out a remarkable career, pioneering her way in a world dominated by men.

As a mature student she became the first woman accepted to study civil engineering at St Andrews University and completed her degree at the Royal Military College of Science – the only woman at the institution, her admission having to be cleared by the defence minister.

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She went on to become chief civil engineer at an oil platform construction yard, set up her own contractors’ business, and as chair of Fife Health Board was instrumental in overseeing the building of Dunfermline’s Queen Margaret Hospital.

Ann Ferguson was an accomplished horsewoman

It was all light years away from her early days as a horsewoman and hospitality worker.

Patricia Ann Ferguson, known as Ann, was born in Dundee where her father was a director of a jute company.

She attended Dundee High School but finished her education at St Margaret’s School for Girls in Aberdeen after her parents took over Meldrum House Hotel in Aberdeenshire.

There she pursued her love of horses and equestrian sport while helping to run the hotel.

Later the family bought Annfield House Hotel at Kingskettle, Fife, where Ann did the same.

A successful competitive showjumper in her teens and twenties, she went on to participate in dressage, often travelling to Germany and Poland to improve her skills, and competing across the UK.

It wasn’t until Ann was in her late twenties that she decided to go to university. Quite why she opted for engineering is unclear but she first had to obtain the necessary entry qualifications.

Halfway through her degree she married fellow engineer Euan Ferguson and moved to England, where she transferred to the army’s Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, to complete her degree, which had included war studies.

She graduated in 1971 and worked for George Wimpey in the Bristol area as a site engineer and then assistant site manager.

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When Wimpey was awarded the contract at RAF Fairford, Wiltshire, to extend facilities for the supersonic Concorde test flights, Ann spent a few months helping to set out the concrete apron and new hangar to accommodate the second Concorde test aircraft.

Moving back to Scotland in 1973, Ann became chief civil engineer at Redpath Dorman Long at Methil, one of only four oil platform manufacturers in the UK.

Then, in 1976, with her late husband, she started a civil engineer contractors’ business, Hatrick Bruce, based in Milnathort, running it until the company was taken over in 2006.

Appointed to Fife Health Board in 1983, she became chairman four years later and saw huge changes in the NHS during her tenure, with the introduction of GP fundholders and Trust status for providers.

One of her greatest achievements was introducing fast-track procurement for hospital construction and seeing the new 600-bed Dunfermline hospital materialise in just four years, from ministerial approval to commissioning. It opened on time and within budget.

Her other public appointments were to the board of Glenrothes Development and General Practice Finance Corporation and the board of management of Fife College of Technology.

Ann was also the first lay member appointed to the investigation committee of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, and she became a Justice of the Peace in 1989.

After a decade of public appointments she joined KPMG, working with the London office on changes to methods of financing construction in the public sector. Ann also worked as a consultant for Laing McAlpine Millar & Kier in connection with new Private Finance Initiative contracts.

Aside from her professional commitments she also was involved in voluntary work with the World Wildlife Fund, as a Scottish committee member, and with Grey Partridge Conservation.

She also became an ambassador for Help for Heroes and the Poppy Appeal Scotland and maintained her connection with Royal Military College, where she was annually invited back to events.

Ann’s love of horses also remained a constant throughout her life: she had two arenas and stables attached to her home at Lydiard and taught continuously.

She always enjoyed country pursuits, accompanied by her beloved spaniels, loved dressage training with her horses and was still riding at the age of 80.

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