Real lives: Jean was a true Christian, devoting her life to others

• Jean Burns, a woman who dedicated her life to helping children around the world, has died, aged 92.

Friends described her as "an extraordinary lady" who dedicated her life to others, caring for hundreds of girls as a housemother at Dr Graham's Homes School in Kalimpong, India.

Born on November 6, 1918 into a poor family in Leith, she was the middle child of seven, and was educated at Dr Bell's Primary School and Lochend Road School. She left school at 14, beginning work in a factory making uniforms for soldiers.

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Her next job was in a lady's tailoring firm that made Munro spun tweeds, where she was persuaded by a supervisor called Susan Robertson to visit the Musselburgh Baptist Church, a visit which profoundly affected her life. Five years later, in 1949, she was accepted as a student at a Bible college in Glasgow.

Despite her initial diffidence in joining a course with so many graduates, she ended up making the graduation speech on behalf of the ladies in her year.

After a short period working with children at the Quarriers Homes in Bridge of Weir, she accepted a posting with servicemen in the Suez Canal zone, a daring move for someone who had never been further than Loch Lomond. Never allowed to travel without an armed guard, one day she rebelled and walked into the desert, and sat on a rock in tears, praying. Some months later, when returning on a troop ship to Scotland, an officer spoke to her, saying that he felt he had met her before. On learning she had been in Suez, he said: "So you were the damsel in distress, but we kept you covered".

On the ship she found a bundle of magazines, one of which mentioned a school for disadvantaged Anglo-Indian children in India, and this led to the greatest service of her life, where she started as a housemother in 1958 at Woodburn Cottage at Dr Graham's Homes School, founded in 1900 by the Reverend John Anderson Graham from Scotland.

This boarding school, set in the Himalayan foothills, was originally dedicated to helping children abandoned in India by the British when India gained its independence, but subsequently cared for other children of many backgrounds. Ms Burns worked there for 36 years, bringing up girls of different nationalities.

During her time in India, Ms Burns survived a horrific train crash, and in the 1980s had to handle alarming events when the Indian army entered her cottage during the night searching for hidden dissidents.

She retired in 1994, returning to her beloved Musselburgh and friends at the Baptist Church. Her girls and relatives invited her all over the world, and made pilgrimages to see her in Scotland. While her own life was directed and fulfilled by her deep Christian faith, she embraced all human beings with unconditional love.

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