9th January 2009 at 00:00

Sobel McNeillie, former headteacher at Craigholme School in Glasgow, died in November at the age of 78.

She was educated at Johnstone High and Paisley Grammar, and graduated from Glasgow University in 1953 with an MA Hons in French and German. Her childhood wishes were fulfilled when she entered teaching, as an assistant teacher at Paisley Grammar.

In 1959, she participated in a teacher exchange with the Gymnasium in Wunsiedel, in Thuringen, Germany, a life-changing experience which sparked a lifelong passion for Wagner and introduced her to friends who would help organise many school exchanges.

On her return to Scotland in 1960, Miss McNeillie joined the modern languages department of Craigholme. She was soon promoted to head of German, where she started many of the department's present traditions.

She became deputy headmistress in 1971, and headmistress in 1975. For the next 16 years, Miss McNeillie took the school from strength to strength with characteristic zeal and efficiency. Each pupil was nurtured to achieve her potential in all fields. Curriculum expansion meant more teaching and ancillary staff, greater subject choice, new sports facilities and new science laboratories. Although Miss McNeillie was a linguist, she promoted the sciences as she firmly believed a single-sex learning environment was advantageous to girls in these subjects.

The school's strength lay in a close-knit community. Each pupil was known to Miss McNeillie as an individual, since she continued to teach German and took social education with the senior girls.

In 1983 she became secretary of the Scottish branch of the Secondary Heads Association, finding a new audience for her quick wit and self-deprecating humour. When SHA and the Association of Headmistresses amalgamated, she became a strong member of the Conference Committee and the National Council. She served on the Scottish Council of Independent Schools until her retirement in 1991.

Miss McNeillie possessed a fine contralto voice, and was a member of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Paisley Operatic Society and Glasgow Grand Opera Society. An excellent hostess and accomplished pianist, she enjoyed evenings of "musizieren" with friends.

She was an elder of the Church of Scotland and had been session clerk in Johnstone High Church. She was an enthusiastic swimmer, badminton player, and theatregoer, and a crossword addict. Well-versed in English, French and German literature, she also wrote sonnets in Portuguese.

Isobel Watt McNeillie was a woman of extraordinary intelligence and great ability, who commanded respect. Failing health curtailed her lifestyle, but she still took delight in the company of friends and neighbours. To many she epitomised the Craigholme motto: Persta atque obdura, or "Be steadfast and endure".

ME McCallum, deputy head, Craigholme School.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today