This obituary was written by Ann Mackenzie in 2006.
Cathie, as we always called her, was the eldest of three daughters, born on 3rd March 1914 at the home of her grandmother in the West End of Glasgow. Cathie’s father, who was from the North of Uist and a native Gaelic speaker, had taken up a post in South Uist as the minister for the Church of Scotland. At an appropriate time during her pregnancy, Cathie’s mother returned home for the birth to her mother in Glasgow where she had access to their well-respected family doctor – Dr Thomson. Cathie’s middle name Thomson was given to her in recognition of the respect for this doctor. Soon after her birth Cathie and her mother returned to South Uist where she stayed for the first four years of her life until the family moved to Ballachulish where her father had taken up a new post.
One of Cathie’s early recollections was being told, “Never take anything from strangers”; at this time the German prisoners of war were in the area making a new road. The first person to offer her something (a sweet), was the priest from the Catholic church and discussion arose among her sisters and herself as to whether he was a “stranger”. The priest became a regular visitor each week to the manse and her father would exchange books with him. The First World War was ongoing and it was at this time that she became very strongly motivated towards the concept of Peace.
At the age of seven Cathie went to stay with her Auntie Chris in Edinburgh. Auntie Chris (Christine) was her mother’s eldest sister married to the minister of the United Free Church. She had no family and Cathie was treated like her daughter. She attended primary school in Edinburgh. Some three years later the family moved to Inverness where her father took up the post of minister at St Mary’s Gaelic Church at the end of Church Street. Although a flourishing congregation in those days, the building was in later years sold off and became a second-hand bookshop cum café. They lived at 3 Victoria Terrace not far from the school where she was to attend – the Inverness Royal Academy, which was in those days both a primary and secondary school.
During her teenage years she was expected to help her mother at home and, being the eldest, had to take on more responsibilities than her other sisters. Her parents were out a lot in the evenings visiting members of the congregation, offering pastoral care. Surrounded in her early years by concern for others, the need to look to the needs of others and hospitality, these came as second nature to her.
Finishing school with 4 Highers – French, English, Maths and Latin, and a Lower in Science, she went to University in Aberdeen. Here she spent the years between 1932 and 1935 enjoying the university life studying English, Maths, Latin, French, Science, Geography, Geology and Botany and finally gaining an MA. A further year at Woolmanhill College in Aberdeen gained her a teaching qualification. She returned to her home in Inverness and after a few minor posts she was given a teaching post at Beauly Secondary School where she taught for eight years. Her main subject was Latin although she was expected to teach all the subjects when required.
Her grandmother would often come to stay with them in Inverness. On her dressing-table she had a picture of an eastern man which she had been given on a trip back from Australia as she was sailing through the Red Sea. She called him “Her Best Boy” saying he was a wonderful man but not a Christian. Cathie later found out that this was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the Bahá’i Faith, which she came across many years later when she met Betty Shepherd at a teachers’ meeting in Inverness.
Cathie spotted Betty as a new person looking a bit lost and immediately went over to befriend her. Betty had newly arrived in Inverness as a pioneer from Manchester and gives this account.
“I had just started teaching in a school in Croy near Nairn. An E.I.S. (Educational Institute for Scotland) meeting had been arranged to be held at the Royal Hotel one Saturday on the corner of Academy Street and Union Street, now the Clydesdale Bank. At first I thought that, knowing no one, there was no point in going to the meeting. I thought about it again and decided that it was an occasion where I might possibly get to know someone. Standing at the back of the room wondering where I should sit, I was greeted by a very friendly lady who asked me to sit by her. This was my first encounter with Cathie who immediately asked me what brought me to Inverness. I told her that it was because I was a Bahá’í and had come to fulfil the goal of opening Inverness and the North of Scotland to the Bahá’í Faith.”
Having discovered that Betty was a Bahá’í she wanted to learn more about this new religion, determined to set her right for the sake of her two young children. Betty gave her a book by John Esslement Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, which in those days was the standard textbook about the Faith. John Esslemont was from Aberdeenshire and Cathie knew the Esslemont family both from medical and university days and their standing as Congregational Church members and therefore much respected and most unlikely to be telling lies or making up stories. Cathie had been brought up with a knowledge of comparative religion from her father and student days so was interested in other people’s beliefs. Then she read Christ and Baha’u’llah and All Things Made New which had recently been published. She found that she agreed with all the principles of the Faith and especially tuned in to the aspects of peace and unity which had become her passion from her early years and felt a particularly strong bond with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Cathie continued to meet other visiting Bahá’ís from time to time at Betty’s house such as John and Vera Long, who ran the Bahá’i Publishing Trust, and Joan and Ernest Gregory who left lasting memories with her. She remembers Joan and Ernest telling her that both recognised the truth of the Faith very quickly but Ernest, being a Freemason, took longer to become a Bahá’i as he had to relinquish his membership of the Freemasons first. Finally Cathie embraced the Faith in September 1960 having fallen in love with its teachings and being unable to find fault with it. At this time Gita Chaplin, a Bahá’í from Eccles from Jewish background was visiting. Gita took them to the Queensgate Hotel for lunch to celebrate. This she remembers well as most of the menu on that day contained pork which Gita usually avoided; however, Gita ate pork with them on this special occasion.
She signed the declaration card and enthusiastically set about the task of writing to inform all the ministers in Inverness and some outwith about this new religion. However, she received only two replies.
How did her family feel about her becoming a Bahá’i? Her father had already passed on. Her Auntie Chris came to meetings at the Royal Hotel on Academy Street for a while but missed the musical side of religious life. Music in those days had not been developed in the meetings of the Faith. Rena (Alexandrina), with whom she was closest, thought she was just attention-seeking. Her mother whom she visited often was at this time in a nursing home.
Cathie became one of the members of the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Inverness which was formed in April 1962.
The Bahá’i community of Inverness was very active with public meetings, firesides and a steady stream of Bahá’i visitors which included several Hands of the Cause. There was much emphasis on press publicity with quotations from the writings regularly inserted in the local papers, public meetings to arrange with adverts and press releases and press reports to be done, as well as the regular Bahá’i meetings such as Nineteen Day Feasts, Holy Days and firesides to attend. It was at this time that there was a lot of negative press publicity as some of the ministers in the area warned the public to beware of the Bahá’ís and this “spurious sect” which should be “shunned like poison”.
After her mother died, Cathie pioneered to Motherwell to help the Bahá’í friends there to form the Local Bahá’í Assembly. Becoming an active member in the Glasgow area she met up with Hilda Douglas who was later to join the Inverness community. Teaching the Bahá’í Faith was much more difficult in this area though she was ready to take up the challenge. It was here that she first came across the cleavage between Catholic and Protestant, especially among the children at the school where she taught. They would try to decide whether she was a Catholic or a Protestant and on hearing her Highland accent decided she must be Irish and Catholic. However, the recitation of the old Scottish poems helped to confirm her Scottish background and keep them guessing. She returned to Inverness to a teaching post at Drumnadrochit Secondary School where she taught for five years taking such subjects as English and Geography.
She went on a travel-teaching trip to Northern Ireland where she stayed with Jane Villiers Stuart’s family in a village at Greenisland. Jane arranged meetings with her friends and this is where she met up with other Irish Bahá’ís, especially Dr Joan Clay and her family whose mother Louise Clay, also a Bahá’í, later came to live at 5 Lovat Court in Golspie.
Eventually, being asthmatic, the teaching and travel to Drumnadrochit became too stressful and she was offered a transfer to Inverness High School teaching Geography and English to less able pupils until she retired. It was here that Cathie became interested in children with handicaps.
After she retired, still interested in everything, Cathie continued her passion for teaching, taking on voluntary work teaching English as a foreign language. She wrote letters to people through Amnesty International, she went to meetings of the Theosophical Society, and spiritual healing meetings at the Hilton Community Centre nearby and joined WEA classes on topics which interested her. Having arthritis in the spine she joined the Arthritis Care group. At one gathering for the Rights of the Elderly she was asked by Councillor Shelagh Mackay to talk in favour of benefits that the elderly should have. She spoke up for heating allowance for cold weather. This later was to be brought in by the government. She was able to attend the Mackenzie Centre in later years, which offered plenty of opportunity to mention her Faith and was particularly sought after to participate in quizzes.
She lived with her sister Effie for several years at 171 Mackay Road until Effie was placed in a residential home at Burnside, nearby on Burn Road, leaving Cathie in a house which was not suitable for her. She then went to stay with Lesley, a neighbour on Mackay Road, who became her carer. This was a mutually helpful situation. Lesley lacked confidence in herself, profoundly deaf and with a disability herself with her knees, she had just lost her mother and was feeling quite down. Cathie was always ready to “see what mischief she could get up to” which meant an outing to meetings or trips which she felt would be good for Lesley and herself, getting them out of the house and keeping them active and cheerful and Lesley was always there for Cathie if she needed any attention with her asthma or dizzy spells.
She gave her full support to the Faith and its meetings. Pastoral care came naturally to her – writing encouraging letters and keeping in touch by phone with isolated believers, with cards ready at the 19 Day Feast for all to sign, and she also visited the sick in hospital. She was refined, polite and dignified but not averse to giving her point of view.
Cathie was always keen to gain press publicity about the Faith. She will be remembered at Summer Schools and Conferences, which she attended whenever she could, for her open-hearted love for humanity and the way she spoke so gently and carefully with all people holding their hand with a “How are you my dearie?” ensuring inclusiveness in conversation and seeking out the lonely or new; for her audacity, courage and steadfastness in her faith and particularly for the time she had for children and youth, showing interest, encouragement and support.
She kept up communication with the Inter-Faith movement in Glasgow which was very dear to her heart and which she had followed from its early days. She loved the Gaelic, attending the “Mod” whenever possible and was delighted when The Hidden Words was published in Gaelic and took copies to give out one year at the “Mod”. She seized every opportunity to bring the Faith and the principles in which she believed so dearly to the attention of all with whom she came in contact. A prolific letter writer, she wrote right up until her passing in July 2006, not only to friends but also to public figures and people of influence, promoting the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh.
At her Bahá’í funeral the hall was full to capacity despite the torrential rain. The sky cleared and the sun shone shortly after the arrival of the funeral cortege at the family grave at Tomnahurich Cemetery. And how fitting to be played out to the strains of the bagpipes played by one of the children connected with her spell at Aldourie Castle, beside Loch Ness, where she had taken, taught and looked after a group of evacuee children from Edinburgh whom, during the Second World War, she had taken there to escape from the bombing.
Cathie enjoyed her career as a teacher and considered her life to have been rich and varied.