Obituary: Sister Patty Burgess, 97

Sister Patty Burgess felt it her Christian duty to live simply. Picture: contributed
Sister Patty Burgess felt it her Christian duty to live simply. Picture: contributed
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A SELFLESS nun who devoted her life to helping others has died aged 97.

Sister Patty Burgess was born into a branch of Clan Campbell and was brought up in the family’s mansion, which now houses Warriston Crematorium.

Despite only entering the sisterhood in her 50s, she kept a strong faith in God her entire life and felt it her Christian duty to live as simply as possible. This was a conviction shared by Canon Roland Walls of Rosslyn Chapel, and after Mrs Burgess began attending worship at the chapel in her early 50s the two soon found their approaches to life complemented each other.

Canon Walls, a noted academic with a first-class honours degree from Cambridge, was so devoted to existing on very little that he was often mistaken for a tramp. He set up a small religious order of three monks in some tin sheds near to Rosslyn, and Mrs Burgess found herself drawn to their cheery approach, qualifying as a deaconess a short while later.

A land-owning family, the Campbells once lived on the tiny Inner Hebridian island Eilean Righ, where as a youngster Mrs Burgess fell in love with the wilderness and envied her male counterparts in the Boy Scouts who learnt the basic skills to survive in the wild.

But, in a gracious move, the family sold the island for the same price they had bought it, out of respect for the local community.

While her scientifically minded father was not religious in any traditional sense, her mother maintained a strong faith throughout her childhood and ensured her daughter attended different denominations of church for worship. This varied approach left the young Patty with a lasting commitment to all strains of Christianity.

Mrs Burgess was a bright child and, encouraged by her keen botanist father, excelled in the sciences at St Oran’s Church in Broughton Street and went on to study botany at Edinburgh University, where she would later graduate with an honours degree.

It was at university that she met her husband, Hugh Burgess, whom she married in 1939. Mr Burgess shared his wife’s passion and thirst for life and the couple worked in Africa for several years.

The couple went on to have four children together before Mr Burgess’s sad death in 1959, leaving his wife a widow and a single mother.

But despite this hardship and her scientific leanings, Mrs Burgess kept a strong faith in God and was a prolific supporter of a variety of charities. Her small flat near Rosslyn was often overrun with the needy and vulnerable.

She died in Loanhead on March 27 and will be buried in her own home-made nun’s habit, fashioned from an old army blanket. She is survived by four children, 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.