Tireless social campaigner Evelyn dies at age 55

Evelyn Gillan co-founded the Zero Tolerance campaign. Picture: Contributed
Evelyn Gillan co-founded the Zero Tolerance campaign. Picture: Contributed
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Evelyn Gillan, co-founder of the award-winning Zero Tolerance campaign and the main proponent of minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland has died, aged 55.

Evelyn Gillan was born on August 4, 1959 to Joe and Bridget Gillan and brought up in Tranent, East Lothian.

Evelyn was Dux of her primary school and looked set for university. But the fashion conscious, music-loving 17-year-old had other ideas. She trained as a hairdresser, worked in Edinburgh’s Charlie Miller salon and spent a couple of years roaming Europe, cutting hair on a beach in Greece, picking grapes in France and working in a Dutch bandage factory.

At 21 she came back to Edinburgh and studied social work at Moray House, where she met Tom Proudfoot, who became her life partner. Evelyn had her first encounter with politics as president of the Students Representative Council at Moray House.

After that she moved to London to work for gap year specialists International Youth Year, but the bright lights of the big city didn’t keep her for long. Evelyn next became a campaigns officer in the new Women’s Committee of Edinburgh Council – and a minor blizzard of campaigns followed.

But the cause that meant most to Evelyn was the Zero Tolerance campaign. Billboard posters paired beautiful images with shocking statistics about physical and sexual violence against women and children. Soon councils all over Britain wanted to run Zero Tolerance campaigns, along with groups in New York and Australia.

Eight years – and a Masters in social policy – later, Evelyn became head of public affairs for the Royal College of Nursing Scotland. In 2002, she took six months off to bake cakes, oversee her youngest son’s transition to primary school and complete a PhD at Edinburgh University – and became the first director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems. From there she became chief executive at Alcohol Focus Scotland, where she persuaded the Scottish Government to adopt minimum unit pricing as a way to reduce alcohol harm in Scotland.

Evelyn became ill last year. When she arrived home from her first spell in hospital, there was a letter from Prime Minister David Cameron asking her to accept an MBE. Evelyn declined, saying she was more at home with nominees who had turned down such honours than those who had accepted them.

Evelyn recently wrote: “Dying has taught me more about living than anything else I have experienced ... most importantly, dying has reinforced for me what I already knew deep down, that love in all its beautiful, myriad forms, is the sine qua non of life, and therefore, of death ... I take my leave of you with hope that we are rediscovering those things that matter most.”

Evelyn is survived by her partner, Tom, and their sons, Max and Jack.