Obituary

3rd December 2010 at 00:00

Rene Anderson, who has died aged 90, spent most of her working life in Ghana, first at Achimota College and then from 1953 to 1971 as headmistress of Aburi Girls School.

It was for her service in Ghana that she was appointed MBE as well as being honoured by the Ghanaian Government. Perhaps just as important for her was the honour bestowed by the local Ashanti people, who raised her to high tribal rank as Queen, the female equivalent of a chieftain. The carved and beaded stool on which she was inducted was cherished by her and is still in the possession of her family.

Born of Scottish parents in Ayrshire, Irene was brought up in Doncaster, where her father had taken up a teaching post. It was in that family home, with its strong though liberal Christian influence, that her values of independent thinking, frankness and integrity, were formed.

On leaving Doncaster, she won a scholarship to Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University, where she graduated in 1941 with honours in geography. While there, she was actively involved in church life at St Columba's and in the student Christian movement. She was much impressed with George McLeod when he visited Oxford to speak about the Iona Community but was quite bemused by the fact that he was only recruiting men as members of the society. Her sense of fairness and equality were offended by such blatant sexism.

Had it been possible then, Irene might well have gone on to take a degree in theology and enter the ministry of the Church of Scotland. But she took up a teaching post to earn enough money to undertake the two-year residential training at St Colm's College to become a church sister, now deacon, in the Church of Scotland.

In that capacity, she was posted to Aberdeen to work with the girls employed in the city's fish houses. She enjoyed that work and was greatly respected by the girls as someone who was always on their side. She did, however, feel that her work was often compromised by church legislation, which took little account of the circumstances of individual girls.

True to her principles of fairness and justice, she felt she could not continue to work for the church and when an opportunity came for her to resume her teaching career, she took up her appointment at Achimota in Ghana.

Irene was a formidable character, warm-hearted and spiky at the same time, but always a trustworthy friend and colleague. She left an indelible mark on her students and Aburi left an indelible mark on her.

On her return to Scotland, she moved to the East Lothian village of Garvald, where she was able to follow her hobbies of gardening, painting and history and was greatly involved in the life of the local parish church.

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