A tribute to Miss Mary MacDonald

06 December, 2021 / Features

Generations of Glasgow dental graduates will remember Miss Mary MacDonald who passed away on 19 October 2021, aged 95.

Miss MacDonald was secretary and administrator to the Dean’s office from 1950 until her retirement in 1986. In these 36 years she served no less than four Deans of Glasgow Dental School: Professors James Aitchison, Thomas White, James Ireland and David Mason.

Mary was born in Glasgow in 1926. Her father was a sea captain and early in her life the family moved to Dover from where her father captained a vessel operating in the English Channel. Sadly her father was killed during operations in World War II.

The MacDonald family returned to Glasgow where Mary remained for the rest of her days, living in the Mosspark area. She attended Skerry’s College in Glasgow where she studied administrative and secretarial skills preparing for her eventual career at Glasgow Dental Hospital & School.

Her younger brother John followed his father (and grandfather) to sea and became a master mariner. He emigrated to Canada commanding ships on the St Lawrence Seaway. Mary visited the family in Canada and had great affection for her nephew John and niece Fiona who often visited her in Scotland.

Mary took a great interest in her genealogy and she traced the family’s roots to the Isles of Skye and Jura. She often holidayed on Jura; it was her “favourite place in the world”. A close second was the town of Oban where she also spent many happy days.

Holidays were spent with her lifelong friend Miss Julia (Judy) MacKay whom she met at college. They were friends for over 75 years. In her tribute to Mary, Judy said their friendship “…was not without a difference of opinion at times, but steadfast throughout; we have laughed and cried together and got ourselves into many a scrape but always managed to come up smiling.”

Mary’s funeral was held on 17 November 2021. Following committal at Craigton Crematorium, a memorial service was held at Sherbrooke Mosspark Church, where she had been a member for most of her life. The service was conducted by the Reverend Donald MacLeod, who had known Mary for many years. Mary’s nephew John MacDonald, who had travelled from Canada, gave a wonderful eulogy on behalf of the family.

Many tributes have been paid to Mary by graduates who remember her from Glasgow Dental School. Andrew Hadden, a retired dentist and an elder of Sherbrooke Mosspark Church recalled: “I remember Miss MacDonald acting as an excellent intermediary between the Dean (Prof. White) and students on several occasions. One recollection, as I was then Student President, is of being ‘invited’ to meet an irate Prof. White who had received a complaint from a property owner on the other side of Sauchiehall Street from GDH. It was claimed dental students had been throwing snowballs from GDH car park into his first-floor windows!

“While waiting to be called to his office I explained to Miss McDonald that some people had been seen in the car park at lunchtime, and suggested they were possibly students from the Art School. She then had a word with Prof White and, I don’t know exactly what she said, but when I went in he was delighted to hear that GDH students were not responsible and he would advise the complainant accordingly. Saved me having to argue the case; she was a very helpful lady.”

Retired dentist and Gaelic singer Alasdair Gillies recalled: “Miss Macdonald was secretary to Prof. Aitchison when I graduated in 1960. She was there as the friendly and always supportive face ‘twixt the anxious and nervous students and staff, and the forbidding Dean’s office!

“As her name suggests, she valued her Highland connections and that was a basis for my having a particularly warm relationship as she followed my Gaelic singing activities with great interest.

“Dignified efficiency at all times, without a shadow of doubt she was part of the fabric of Glasgow Dental School. The one thing that comes across from every source is the respect in which she was held by all who knew her – remembered with great fondness.”

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