Obituary: Tessa Ransford, poet, 76

Tessa Ransford published more than 23 book of poems
Tessa Ransford published more than 23 book of poems
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TESSA Ransford, a poet and founding director of the Scottish Poetry Library, has died at the age of 76.

Ransford was born on July 8, 1938, in Mumbai, the daughter of Sir Alister and Lady Torfrida Ransford.

Her father was Master of the Mint in Mumbai and in 1948 the family returned to Scotland, where he became Bursar of Loretto School, Musselburgh.

Ransford attended St Leonard’s School in St Andrews, where she discovered a love of poetry. Indeed, she read German poetry at Edinburgh University but got a degree in Philosophy.

Ransford joined the Quakers and in 1950 married Kay Stiven, a minister of the Kirk, and for over a decade they did missionary work in Pakistan.

She loved the country and the teaching but it was not easy – two of her sons contracted malaria.

They returned to Edinburgh in the 60s and Ransford worked at the Netherbow Centre in the Royal Mile and attended evening classes in Scottish literature where her teacher, Bob Tait, introduced her to the poets Norman MacCaig and Robert Garioch.

In 1973 Tait published two of her poems in Scottish International and two small volumes followed the following year.

In 1982 the Scottish Poetry Library Association was founded, and two years later she, and others, were instrumental in opening a small room in Tweeddale Court.

It was a casual conversation in the Assembly Rooms in George Street in 1981 that made Ransford decide to have the SPL built.

An exhibition of poetry was held during the Festival in the Assembly Rooms and someone asked where the poetry library was in Edinburgh.

With much difficulty, Ransford eventually set up a steering committee (including Edwin Morgan, Iain Crichton Smith, Norman MacCaig, Hamish Henderson and Ian Hamilton Finlay) and MacCaig proved a particular enthusiast.

For the next 15 years Ransford was an enthusiastic steward of the library’s affairs and planned and oversaw the Association’s move into the grand premises in the Canongate. Significantly, the inscription Ransford chose to place above the door of the new library building were the words of the Scottish biologist Sir Patrick Geddes: “Creando pensamus” (by creating we think).

Her work at the SPL took up much of her time but Ransford published more than 23 books of poems, all finely crafted with an expert use of words.

Ransford was tireless in her work on behalf of Scottish poetry. She was a fellow of The Royal Literary Fund (working at Queen Margaret University) and was awarded an OBE in 2000.

Her first marriage was dissolved and in 1989 she married the publisher Callum Macdonald.

Ransford died in Edinburgh on September 2. She is survived by her children from her first marriage.