15th August 2008 at 01:00

Thel Gray, Nee Rennie, one of Scotland's foremost educationists, has died, aged 85. She was a marvellous raconteur, accomplished mimic and superb public speaker who, once heard, was never forgotten. She had a vision of what might be possible in many areas of the broad sweep of lifelong learning in Scotland, long before most others.

Among her proudest professional achievements was the setting up of Craigie College of Education in Ayr in 1963 (now part of the University of the West of Scotland). "From a hole in the ground to students through the door in nine months flat," as she put it.

She is said by former colleagues to have "personified the college" before it was even physically there. Over 3,500 teachers were created during the 12 or so years of her principalship. Many moulds were broken and she was largely instrumental in moving towards an increasing professionalism of the teaching service by establishing, with Hamilton College of Education and Strathclyde University, the first primary and secondary BEd degree courses in Scotland.

Some who worked with her during these years remember the innovative approaches that she required of her staff. Peer review, seminars on learning and teaching for staff, and her personal sense of style all made a lasting impact.

Ethel was also extremely proud of the achievements of her mature student teachers, realising particularly that, for many of them, this was a huge step into a new world. Over the years, she would regale friends with stories of lives changed and challenges met and overcome. She was recognised as "Miss Rennie" to the end of her days and took great delight in being approached by the many people whose lives she had touched.

It can be assumed that she was latterly aided and abetted by George D Gray, the first registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, subsequently her husband, with whom she enjoyed a long and happy marriage. She was extremely proud of the fact that, at one time, they were the only living married couple in Scotland who had both been awarded CBE.

Ethel Gray's work in adult literacy, setting up the first national agency to tackle the issue in 1976, was another landmark in her career. Her vision for adult guidance as an integral, fundamental part of the education system was once laughed down with catcalls at a large national gathering of those who were to learn subsequently that their vision had been too narrow.

She was a woman of fierce intellect and intolerant of sloppy thinking or disagreement unless well-founded, who quite simply changed the face of Scottish education. In her final days, her view of how she might be remembered was as "uppity". Many of us have reason to be most grateful that she was.

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