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Mary Ann Smith

The headteacher and leading lay member of the Roman Catholic Church has died, aged 64

The headteacher and leading lay member of the Roman Catholic Church has died, aged 64

Mary Smith, a former primary headteacher and lay member of the Roman Catholic Church, has died after a lengthy battle with cancer, aged 64.

Best known as a no-nonsense, but much-loved headteacher, Mary turned around the fortunes of several primary schools, most recently St Lucy's RC Primary in Abronhill, Cumbernauld, from where she took early retirement in 2004.

She was also instrumental in the development of a new approach for autistic children through the setting up of a specialist non-denominational unit by North Lanarkshire Council within St Lucy's in 1993. This was a prototype for language and communication units now found across Scotland. She worked closely with the unit's principal, Rose Kycinski, who was to remain a close friend throughout the remainder of Mary's life.

Mary spent most of her career teaching in some of the most challenging areas in and around Glasgow: St Mary's, Calton; St Timothy's, Greenfield; St Cuthbert's, Possilpark; and St Stephen's, Dalmuir.

A large woman with a big heart, she always loved one-to-one teaching, especially with less gifted or troubled children. After her retirement, she took on two challenging new posts: a mentoring role on the primary education course at her alma mater, the University of Glasgow, allowed her to travel regularly across west central Scotland to coach and evaluate trainee teachers as they were "unleashed" into the classroom during their probationary periods; and at the invitation of a family friend, she became a counsellor with the Rainbows International organisation, which works with young people troubled by bereavement, separation or difficult family circumstances.

Mary's faith was arguably the single most important facet of her rich life. She had tried the religious life for herself, having been with the Sisters of Charity in London in the early 1970s. However, she decided that this was not for her and dedicated herself to a vocation as a single lay person in the Church.

Having nursed her dying parents, in the 1980s she became a leading figure in the Roman Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, where she was in great demand as a guest speaker for her down-to-earth approach to discussing and lecturing on spiritual matters.

Mary was also in great demand as a counsellor to people wishing to join the Roman Catholic Church. She would meet them on a weekly basis, often welcoming them into her own home, and spend months diligently preparing them for the rites that would see them enter the Church at the Easter Vigil each year. In a similar way, she also took on related roles in the ecumenical movement.

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