Mary Thomson

`Dr T' shared her love of Italian and her belief in education as a route out of poverty with pupils

Dr Mary Thomson, depute headteacher at St Margaret's High in Airdrie, has died at the age of 54 following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Mary was a product of the bursary class at Charlotte Street Secondary in Glasgow, where she loved mathematics, Italian, French, outdoor education and sport, particularly badminton, at which she was a Glasgow schools' champion.

She turned down an offer to become a PE teacher because they would not let her do a dual qualification in mathematics, but in S6 she discovered the subject that would shape the rest of her life - physics.

Mary entered Glasgow University in 1975, where she met her eventual husband, Paul. After graduating, she went to teacher training while Paul started his PhD. They married in 1980.

Having been schooled by nuns, Mary found her first teaching post at St Patrick's High, Dumbarton, something of a culture shock. Subsequently she was appointed assistant principal teacher of guidance at Our Lady's High, Cumbernauld, then PT of physics at nearby St Maurice's High, where she was heavily involved in developing Standard grade physics. She became depute headteacher at St Margaret's in 1995.

Mary completed her doctorate in education from the University of Strathclyde in 2001 and thereafter supported other postgraduate students. In 2001 she also became one of the first to be awarded the Scottish Qualification in Headship.

Three places have been special in Mary's life: Donegal, the birthplace of her father, where she spent childhood summers, later visiting with her own family; Arran, where she returned, health permitting, in her final months; and Tuscany. She avidly supported the exchange between schools in North Lanarkshire and Pistoia, renewing her love of Italian and continuing her dialogue with the Italian visitors to her last days.

A visit to Malawi and the resultant report led to an award and an invitation to join a working group supporting the Scotland-Malawi Partnership.

Colleagues and friends alike would say she was never short of an opinion or afraid to voice it. Valuing education for her pupils, her children and herself, she believed that it was the route out of poverty, ignorance and oppression.

The daughter of a miner who left Donegal to seek work, she was the first of her family to go to university. She died knowing that both sons Ross and Andrew were studying at Oxford University. She took great pride in them and was thrilled that they both achieved their ambitions.

She was affectionately referred to as "Dr T" at school, and Denise Burke, headteacher at St Margaret's, said she was overwhelmed by the number of pupils who asked to attend her funeral: "One was a very vulnerable child - that tells you something about Mary," she said.

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