Obituary: Mary MacIver, 92

A portrait of Mary MacIver by Sandy Moffat
A portrait of Mary MacIver by Sandy Moffat
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Mary MacIver, teacher and artist, has died, aged 92.

Born Mary Brown in Gorebridge, Midlothian, in December 1919, her father John worked down the pits and one of her earliest memories was the General Strike of 1926 when, aged just six, she had to queue daily in the school playground for a bowl of thin pea soup and a slice of bread and margarine.

She went to Edinburgh University and graduated with an MA Honours in English literature before going on to train as a teacher at Moray House.

She began as an English teacher at Portobello High School in 1948 and retired in 1980 as head of department. She was also involved in the school’s theatrical productions. It was while she was a teacher at Portobello that she met her husband, the writer and poet Hector MacIver, who was at the time head of English at the Royal High School.

The couple lived for 20 years in the Midlothian village of Temple, where their next-door neighbour was the painter Sir William Gillies.

Hector and Mary became part of the Capital’s artistic and cultural scene. Hector was a native Gaelic speaker, a singer of old Gaelic folk songs and a highly respected tutor to young poets. The couple were often to be found enjoying the company of Edinburgh’s leading literary figures in Milne’s Bar and the Abbotsford.

Mary was bereft when Hector died aged just 59. Much later, in 1990, she published a book, Pilgrim Souls, which included many of his writings and letters to him from literary friends such as Sydney Goodsir Smith, Neil Gunn, Hugh MacDairmid, Dylan Thomas and Louis MacNeice.

Mary had grown up with an appreciation of the visual arts through visits with her mother to the Scottish National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy. But she did not begin her own career as a painter until after she retired from teaching. First she enrolled at Napier College in a crash course on the theory of music, which led her to spend four hours a day practising the piano. Then she took an evening class in painting at Edinburgh College of Art.

She built a studio in the loft of her house perched high on the slopes of Braid Hills with panoramic views of Edinburgh and over to the hills of Fife. The artist Sandy Moffat painted a portrait of her, seated by a window overlooking her garden.

Her work as an artist won widespread praise and was exhibited in galleries through the United Kingdom, including the Scottish Gallery and at Inverleith House in the Royal Botanic Garden.

She travelled widely over the years and her paintings were often inspired by personal experiences in places as far afield as Sarajevo, Nevada, the Himalayas, Ireland and Arran.

Mary died last month in the Braid Hills Nursing Home and was laid to rest in the grave Hector had chosen for them both at Crichton Church, where they were married.