Thelma Smith MBE

Fundraiser whose lead­er­ship helped Ed­in­burgh Can­cer Re­search raise mil­lions

The Scotsman - - Obituaries -

Thelma Smith MBE, fundraiser. Born: 17 July 1929 in Ed­in­burgh. Died: 8 Oc­to­ber 2018 in Ed­in­burgh, aged 89.

Thelma Smith be­came Chair of the Ed­in­burgh Fundrais­ing Com­mit­tee for Can­cer Re­search in 1975, hav­ing been a found­ing mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee in 1964. When she re­tired as Chair in 2009 her com­mit­tee had raised more than £2.2 mil­lion for Can­cer Re­search. Her 45 years of con­tin­u­ous ser­vice to Can­cer Re­search in Ed­in­burgh, 34 of them as Chair of the Com­mit­tee, is an as­ton­ish­ing record of com­mit­ment, ded­i­ca­tion and lead­er­ship. She spent a large part of her adult life rais­ing money for a char­ity which leads the fight against a dis­ease which had touched her own life at an early age.

Thelma Mon­crieff was born in the Trin­ity area of Ed­in­burgh in 1929. Her brother, Jimmy, was born three years later. Their fa­ther, James Mon­crieff, ran the fam­ily busi­ness, Bar­rie and Mon­crieff; their mother, Mar­garet, died from can­cer when Thelma was only eight. Thelma’s own life, there­fore, had been af­fected by can­cer as a young girl. She and her brother were brought up dur­ing the war years by their house­keeper, Jean El­der, who later be­came their step­mother. The Mon­crieffs be­came a very close and happy fam­ily.

Thelma was ed­u­cated at Ed­in­burgh Ladies’ Col­lege, known then as “Queen Street”, bet­ter known to­day as Mary Ersk­ine. Train­ing to be­come a pri­mary school teacher fol­lowed in Mo­ray House Col­lege, where she also com­pleted an ad­di­tional year to gain her Froebel qual­i­fi­ca­tion in Early Years Ed­u­ca­tion. Af­ter a short spell in the lo­cal au­thor­ity in 1954 she was of­fered a post at Ge­orge Wat­son’s Col­lege, a school that was to de­fine most of her fu­ture life.

It was at Wat­son’s that she met Jim, whom she mar­ried in 1955. It was a happy mar­riage from which the school ben­e­fited enor­mously. Thelma and Jim were de­voted to Ge­orge Wat­son’s, both in the class­room and in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. Jim be­came the much loved and re­spected head­mas­ter of the Ju­nior School, as well as run­ning the school’s 1st X1 Cricket team. Thelma be­came a leg­endary provider of what have rightly be­come known as the best cricket teas ever pro­vided for a school. Mean­while, she con­tin­ued to be an ef­fec­tive class­room teacher as well as be­com­ing the head­mas­ter’s wife “par ex­cel­lence”. She took her role as a head­mas­ter’s wife very se­ri­ously, lead­ing by ex­am­ple. Teach­ers, and es­pe­cially the young teach­ers who were be­ing wel­comed to the Ju­nior School, still talk about the mar­vel­lous hos­pi­tal­ity which was pro­vided for them when they were in­vited to the Smiths’ home at Braid Farm Road.

Jim’s sud­den and un­timely death in 1979, aged only 58, was a huge blow but Thelma was not one to com­plain or retreat from the world. By this time she was heav­ily in­volved in rais­ing funds for Can­cer Re­search. Not only was she Chair of the main Com­mit­tee, she was also the Chair of the Shop Com­mit­tee and of the Art Com­mit­tee. It was this Art Com­mit­tee that be­gan what soon be­came a great Ed­in­burgh in­sti­tu­tion – the An­nual Can­cer Re­search Art Ex­hi­bi­tion held every November. Un­til very re­cently it was al­ways held at Adam House in Cham­bers Street and it be­came the pro­to­type for the sim­i­lar fundrais­ing events which have be­come com­mon since then. It was not com­mon in 1968 and Thelma was enor­mously proud of what it achieved over the years. The very first ex­hi­bi­tion in 1968 raised £400. The ex­hi­bi­tion held in 2009, just af­ter she re­tired as Chair, raised £20,000.

Her Com­mit­tee presided over the de­vel­op­ment of Can­cer Re­search char­ity shops through­out the city. Th­ese were rais­ing be­tween £50,000 and £70,000 each year. She or­gan­ised many fundrais­ing ac­tiv­i­ties at var­i­ous ma­jor events held in the city. Yet, de­spite the suc­cess of th­ese ven­tures, the Art Ex­hi­bi­tion was her pride and joy. She al­ways talked with pride about the num­ber of peo­ple who had been in­tro­duced to orig­i­nal paint­ings and to the many artists who, over the years, had con­trib­uted to the suc­cess of the ex­hi­bi­tion. Sadly, she did not live to at­tend the 50th An­niver­sary Ex­hi­bi­tion to be held this month.

Th­ese achieve­ments were ac­knowl­edged both lo­cally and na­tion­ally. Thelma was a mem­ber of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee on Fundrais­ing in Lon­don. In 1986 she was awarded the MBE for her ser­vices to char­ity. In 1991 a pre­sen­ta­tion was made to her by the then Lord Provost of Ed­in­burgh, Eleanor Mclaugh­lin, “in recog­ni­tion of the £1m raised un­der her di­rec­tion of the Ed­in­burgh Fundrais­ing Com­mit­tee of the Can­cer Re­search Com­mit­tee”. Th­ese hon­ours and recog­ni­tion were richly de­served. Thelma had a fo­cus and a vi­sion which she ar­tic­u­lated clearly and force­fully. In the world of rais­ing money for char­ity she was a ver­i­ta­ble force for good. As Mrs Jane Brun­ton, her suc­ces­sor and present Chair of the Ed­in­burgh Fundrais­ing Com­mit­tee, said “Thelma was a born leader who al­ways in­spired and gal­vanised. We were all aware that, in rais­ing money, we would help as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble as they be­gin their can­cer jour­ney”.

Thelma had other in­ter­ests. Af­ter Jim’s death she con­tin­ued to teach at St. Mar­garet’s School in New­ing­ton un­til she re­tired from teach­ing in 1988. But she never re­ally re­tired. She set up her own highly suc­cess­ful cake-mak­ing busi­ness, a venture which sur­prised no one – her bak­ing skills were ex­cep­tional. Not only young crick­eters en­joyed her bak­ing, so did Thelma’s friends. Hun­dreds of cus­tomers, in­clud­ing many for­mer pupils, also bought her cel­e­bra­tion cakes. No won­der she was some­times called the Cake Lady.

She was in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics. Her knowl­edge of the mod­ern po­lit­i­cal sys­tem was deep. A long serv­ing mem­ber of the Ed­in­burgh Pent­lands and Ed­in­burgh South Con­ser­va­tive As­so­ci­a­tions’ Com­mit­tees, she knew what she be­lieved and was happy to dis­cuss any po­lit­i­cal is­sues. Her daugh­ter, Liz, in­her­ited that love of pol­i­tics and Thelma was very proud of Liz’s achieve­ments as an MSP. She worked hard to help Liz in her Perth and Kin­ross con­stituency and was de­lighted when Liz was given the Con­ser­va­tive Ed­u­ca­tion Port­fo­lio. Liz’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was fol­lowed with parental pride.

Thelma Smith was an el­e­gant, mod­ern lady with a wide cir­cle of friends who knew that they had her un­con­di­tional love and loy­alty. She knew what pub­lic ser­vice was and un­der­stood its de­mands and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. She used her con­sid­er­able lead­er­ship skills to great ef­fect to meet th­ese chal­lenges. She was quite sim­ply a woman of strong prin­ci­ple who gave much of her life to pub­lic ser­vice.

She is sur­vived by her daugh­ter, Liz, and brother, Jimmy.


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