Real Lives: Groundbreaking speech therapist dies, aged 79

Moira McGovern enjoyed the highest regard for her professionalism
Moira McGovern enjoyed the highest regard for her professionalism
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PROFESSOR Moira Anne McGovern, Scotland’s first professor of speech and language therapy, has died in Edinburgh at the age of 79.

Born in Ilford, Essex, on August 13, 1932, Moira was separated from her family during the Second World War and educated at Catholic girls schools.

After leaving school, she worked in London, helping to rehabilitate adults with acquired communication disorders. She moved to Edinburgh in 1964 to work at the School of Speech Therapy, where it took her only two years to become the boss.

Moira was also one of the first speech and language therapists to gain a higher degree, after completing an MA in linguistics at Reading University between 1969-70.

Five years later, she successfully transferred the Edinburgh school’s speech therapy course to Queen Margaret College. In 1978, she was responsible for the course being upgraded from diploma to degree level, and also for it becoming an honours degree in 1989.

Now a university, it continues to be known for its research in the fields, having recently completed the most comprehensive study of speech and language therapy within Scotland’s criminal justice system.

Moira was awarded the honours of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), then known as the College of Speech and Language Therapists in 1991, the same year she became Scotland’s first professor of speech and language therapy.

A RCSLT spokesperson said: “She challenged the ‘nice young lady’ speech therapist image of the day, raised the bar of academic standards, and moved speech and language therapy education onto a scientific basis.

“Moira received a college honour in 1991 in recognition of her professional work, including as chair of college between 1988 and 1989, and for her role in academic committees and working groups.

“Moira recognised early the need for evidence-based practice and research to support the academic development of the profession. She not only supported, but promoted, research in speech and language therapy by therapists and she published her own research in an era where the majority of SLTs relied on other disciplines to inform their practice.”

In 1992, then chairman of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, Professor Jack Straw, recognised Moira’s contribution, calling her achievements “remarkable”.

Following her retirement that same year, she was able to spend more time on her cultural and artistic interests. She was a supporter of the Royal Scottish Academy and the Edinburgh Festival, and also volunteered as a guide at the Museum of Scotland.

Moira died in June at St Columba’s Hospice.