It is now my privilege to pay tribute to this feisty and quite remarkable woman who packed so much into her lifetime.
As I mentioned earlier I had the pleasure of meeting Lesley, albeit too briefly, when we spoke about this ceremony. Lesley did begin to write some biographical notes but was, as we know, overtaken by events. I think it appropriate therefore to quote her own words.
“Lesley began her life as she went on to live it – always in a hurry. Her father George delivered her, as she wasn’t prepared to wait for the midwife to arrive. He coped admirably, although when the new baby was wrapped up and her mother Isabelle asked if it was a boy or a girl the answer was that in the haste, no-one had looked.”
She was born on 15th May 1957 , just over a year later than her brother, Derek. In fact Lesley was put in a higher age group at school and so in those early days they were in the same class together. Their father George was a well-known journalist who set up one of the first PR firms in Scotland in the early 1960’s, her mother was what would now be termed a paralegal.
“Childhood – Auchendinny in country. Being younger than her brother Derek, she was always determined not to get left behind and quickly learned to climb trees, dam burns and get filthy with the best of them. This determination never left her.”
Derek recalled with some admiration how on one occasion Lesley had intervened to save him from further suffering. He had been knocked to the ground and was being battered by the school bully when Lesley came on the scene and immediately floored his assailant! She was punished by the school for her actions but took it like a man!
The family moved into Edinburgh and she went to Broughton Primary, followed by Mary Erskines. As they grew up Lesley was regretful of the fact that she went to Guides whilst Derek was able to enjoy much more physical fun at the Scouts. At school she hated hockey but took up canoeing. She did particularly well at French and it was at this time that she made the first of many trips to a country she grew to love. She had a gift for languages and became almost fluent in French – though she always spoke the language with a strong Catalan accent picked up during visits to Laroque, a small village near Perpignan where her father had a holiday home. She also spoke passable German.
Sadly when Lesley was only 16 her mother died and this loss was quite a blow to her.
After school she went to the University of Edinburgh and with no clear idea of what she really wanted to do, set off to do Business Studies and Accountancy, on the grounds that it would come in handy when she did decide. “ At University Lesley got involved with the running of the Teviot Row Union, where she was on the committee for several years, including one year serving as secretary. She was also heavily involved with sports, and won a bronze medal at the British Universities Canoeing Championships. Apparently she had a reputation for being able to capsize her canoe but somehow manage not to get her hair wet. She also started playing rugby.
“On graduation, she began a career in Local Government, she covered a wide range of finance functions and was one of the “not-so-lucky” people involved in a collaborative effort to specify IT systems for the Poll Tax in Scotland. She started work with Edinburgh Council but soon moved to Fife then, having decided that she would like to see her home from time to time, she moved to Midlothian as Assistant Director of Finance and Housing.”
As they grew up Lesley and Derek were very close to their father and would meet up for a few pints each weekend. The family might be described as rumbustious or as Jim said “one in which argument was seen as an international sport”. Her father’s partner, Joan, once said of them that they were all very, big, very loud and that they all ate like crocodiles. Her father’s death in 1995 was another major blow to Lesley.
In 1989 she took up with Jim. They had met briefly a few years earlier but their second meeting was far from auspicious. Lesley had a sprained ankle and had been dragged into a downstairs neighbour’s party. She got talking to Jim but the pain in her ankle made her leave despite enjoying the conversation. Jim, ever the gentleman, offered her a lift home which she declined on the grounds that she only lived up two flights of stairs. The next thing she knew she had been picked up and put over Jim’s shoulder and was getting her lift home, complete with mild concussion, as he wasn’t very good on the corners.
This was the start of many happy years together culminating with birth of their son Ewan. Unfortunately things didn’t work out and they separated in 2000. They kept their focus on Ewan and had managed to both have very active roles in his upbringing.
In her 30s Lesley moved on from canoeing to rowing and finally found her sporting forte. In fact she excelled at this sport, winning gold medals at World Masters Championships. It is interesting to speculate what she might have achieved had she discovered this sport at an earlier age.
When I met her she told me how she had worked very hard for a long time to gain her qualification as an International Umpire. She had been hoping to officiate in Italy in August but had been advised against such a journey. Therefore she told me that she hoped to wear her blazer and actually use her new won qualification at the Home International event in Nottingham in late July.
She also loved cycling and she bought a tandem so that she could share her enjoyment of the sport – first with Jim and later with Ewan. She went on many cycling holidays, often in France, with her brother and his family. She was a member of the Hash House Harriers running club, where she answered to the name of Rigsby.
When we met Lesley talked about her inevitable and imminent death. She wanted it to be planned in a way with which she would be comfortable. So, she wanted to organize her funeral and take some hands on control of the event. I also appreciated that she wanted to spare her family as much hassle as possible. Her overriding concern though was for her son, Ewan. At his age it would be difficult to understand her death. She wanted to find a way of involving him and his drawing on your Order of Ceremony resulted. Some of you may be able to help him in the future. One concrete suggestion the family have made is for anyone who has any audio or video records of Lesley’s life to get in touch with them so that they can make copies for Ewan.
When I spoke to Derek and Isabella and Jim they recalled Lesley as a driven person who could be almost frighteningly focussed. Her days would usually be timed to the last minute; her weekends a bit like a military campaign. At times she could be like a bulldozer, allowing nothing to get in the way of attaining her objective.
She worked hard and she played hard. Some of her parties and their themes have achieved legendary status. At the same time she was a devoted and loving and caring mother to Ewan. A recent novel she enjoyed and identified with was called “I Don’t Know How She Does It!”
Another, more recent, interest was her allotment in Portobello. Any spare time shaved off other engagements could be put to good use there.
When her employers Arneil Johnson announced Lesley’s untimely death they said “Lesley had worked with the Directors and staff in many capacities over the years. Lesley was a well-known and highly respected accountant within local government, having worked in Edinburgh, Fife and Midlothian Councils. Later in her career she headed the finance services of Fife Special then Canmore Housing Associations and her Consultancy career included Ernst and Young as well as CSL and Arneil Johnson. The many public sector clients that she advised will remember her Excel spreadsheets that were almost as large as Lesley!”
Latterly Lesley’s desire to spend more time with Ewan had led to career choices not quite so demanding as in the past.
So up until the end of last year Lesley had been happy to pack so many activities into her life and life live at 100 miles an hour! However at that time she began to feel a little unwell, suspecting that she was suffering from Gall Bladder problems such as Jim had recently experienced. As recently as last March she attended the Chartered Institute of Housing Conference in Aberdeen. Later that month she was diagnosed as suffering from a terminal cancer. She undertook palliative chemotherapy, bearing the unpleasant side effects of the treatment with great courage and dignity, and found the services of the Maggie Centre invaluable. After the briefest dalliance with understandable dismay Lesley, totally in character, decided to pack into the little time she had left as much as she could.
She took some pleasure in delegating what she considered less important items to her family and to friends – many of whom were both willing and able to help. This support was greatly appreciated and enabled her to focus the time and energy that remained to her on what really mattered. Her closest friends provided invaluable emotional support.
She and Ewan visited friends just the week before she died and she was really furious when complications with her treatment made it look like she might have to stay in hospital over the weekend and miss the trip. Her anger at being diverted from something important that she been planning for weeks was palpable and she was greeted at the door to the ward by a nurse saying “You really, really don’t want to be here do you?”
She did make it to wear her badge and blazer in Nottingham. However an ambulance had to meet her off the train and in the end her heroic fight was over when she died peacefully on 27 th July. Her brother was with her at the end.
Lesley lived her life like a whirlwind but unlike a whirlwind did not leave devastation behind. Rather her talents to interact with people her achievements in work and sport and her loving devotion to Ewan leave behind a legacy, which will continue to grow. We who knew her are the better for knowing her and the poorer for her passing.
I will now ask Hazel to remember Lesley.
Next – Tribute by Hazel Smith