Obituary: Martha Hamilton OBE, 85

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Martha Hamilton OBE, a former headmistress, has died, aged 85.

Born in Edinburgh on May 12, 1929, Martha Hamilton came from a distinguished family. Her father, John Hamilton, was a minister from Northern Ireland and her mother, the Hon Lilias Maclay, a doctor. She was the granddaughter of Lord Maclay, founder of the Maclay-Macintyre shipping firm and a member of the War Cabinet in 1918.

She attended St Denis School in Edinburgh, St Columba’s School in Kilmacolm and then Roedean in Brighton.

In 1942, she went to St Andrews University to study history, and then on to Cambridge University, where she gained a diploma of education.

In 1953, she taught at Lansdowne House in Edinburgh before serving as a missionary in India, where she was principal of Paljor Namgyal at Gantok, the capital of Sikkim. The school had 750 pupils and Ms Hamilton learnt Nepali. Her work in India was acknowledged when she was awarded the Pema Dorji prize for her “services to education” in Sikkim.

In 1966, she returned to Edinburgh to care for her father and completed a diploma in adult education at Edinburgh University.

She was appointed headmistress of St Leonards girls school in St Andrews in 1970 and remained in the post until 1988, making her the school’s longest-serving headmistress.

The school flourished under her stewardship and she introduced novel activities and outings alongside debates and cultural visits.

She was a tall, imposing lady with a powerful presence. She was also relaxed and blessed with an informal manner. Throughout the school, she was known affectionately as Martha.

In 1977, she married the distinguished Edinburgh architect Robert Steedman, who had designed the new music rooms.

Ms Hamilton was a member of the task force set up to examine the underachievement in schools in Scotland in 1996, served on the court of directors of the Edinburgh Academy and was a governor of the new school at Butterstone, Dunkeld. She was much involved with celebrating the centenary of admitting female students to 
St Andrews University.

When she retired from St Leonards, a farewell supper was organised in the school hall and Ms Hamilton was presented with a painting by Elizabeth Blackadder.

Her successor, Mary James, was fulsome in recognising her achievements. She said: “Her own appearance was a signal. Always elegant and dashing in what she wore, Martha threw herself into the life of the school and set a fast pace.

“Her leadership was a cavalry charge and there was never a dull moment. She never doubted her leadership role and responsibility, and she carried them with distinction.”

Ms Hamilton is survived by her husband and three step-children.