Mollie Abbott, the former principal of Dunfermline College of Physical Education, died last month aged 79. Her contribution to education in Scotland was huge. In bringing about and fighting change, she strove simply to improve.
Mollie was born in Peebles, the daughter of a chartered accountant who moved to Edinburgh. After attending Edinburgh Ladies' College (the Mary Erskine School, then in Queen Street) in the war years, she qualified at Dunfermline College, which was then based in Aberdeen. Although not outstanding in sport (she was a keen swimmer and played occasional golf), her obvious ability brought steady promotion.
Following a short period teaching in Edinburgh schools, she was appointed to a temporary lectureship at Moray House. She became senior lecturer at Ripon Training College in Yorkshire and principal lecturer at Aberdeen College of Education.
In 1964, Mollie joined the inspectorate and in 1970 was appointed principal of Dunfermline College, then in new premises at Cramond, an attractive location which had co-incidentally become well known for the outstanding ministry of Campbell Maclean, the college chaplain.
With support from the vice-principal and other staff, she expanded the buildings and the courses, earning degree-awarding status from the Council for National Academic Awards and extending into new fields such as leisure management. Apart from the question of children's activity, two other concerns of those years are still topical: the safety of outdoor education, which was brought into question by a tragic accident in the Cairngorms in November 1971; and the enlargement of Edinburgh Airport, the subject of a major public inquiry.
The biggest challenge was the survival of the college in the face of public-expenditure constraints and government assessments of student number. A major campaign in 1977 included 90 leaders or articles in The Scotsman and 56 written questions tabled in the House of Commons by the local MP, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.
Having twice resisted the threat of closure or merger with Dundee College of Education, Mollie retired in the summer of 1983 and was appointed CBE in the following New Year's Honours for services to education.
The college's reprieve proved to be temporary. Although it gained the Scottish Centre for Physical Education from Jordanhill, it ceased to be an independent institution in 1986, becoming part of Moray House. After a short association with Heriot-Watt, Moray House became part of Edinburgh University in 1998. The university disposed of the Cramond campus. In 2002, youths set fire to the unoccupied buildings and the site has been developed for housing.
Mollie Abbott served at various times on related organisations such as the Scottish Council of Physical Education, the Scottish Sports Council, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, the Court of Heriot-Watt University and the Scottish Arts Council (reflecting her interest in dance).
She is survived by her niece, nephew and three great-nieces.
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