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Jean Petrie

Community activist

Community activist

Born: April 8, 1928 Died: May 28, 2014

Jean Petrie, who has died aged 86, was a community activist and charity worker and the inspiration behind the establishment of the now famous New Year Swim at Rhu Marina in Helensburgh.

She was one of the town's best-known residents and was the devoted wife and constant support of Billy Petrie, the former Provost of Argyll and Bute Council and Freeman of Argyll and Bute.

Mrs Petrie was a great support to her husband through the 45 years he gave of his life to public service on councils ranging from the old Dunbartonshire County Council to Strathclyde Region to Dumbarton District Council and on a host of public bodies throughout Scotland.

Mr Petrie held more provostships and convenerships and wore the gold chains of office of more councils in Scotland than any other local government politician in history.

Born in Auchinleck in Ayrshire, Mrs Petrie arrived in Helensburgh as a two-week-old baby and grew up in the town with her parents and her younger brother, John.

As a young girl attending Hermitage Primary School, she found herself sitting near a boy called Billy and the two became friends unaware that they were destined to spend their lives together.

She was a keen swimmer as a girl and was involved in the town swimming club as well as in many church and youth organisations. When she graduated from the Commercial College in Glasgow, her first job was as secretary at Helensburgh Police office.

One of her great joys was travel, and her first venture into international travel was when she moved to New York, crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary, to work for the Paisley textile company JP Coates. She spent 18 months in the Big Apple before coming home to Helensburgh.

She then found a job with a Glasgow firm of solicitors which meant a daily commute to the city, a journey she often made in the company of her old school friend Billy, who was, by that time, back from national service in the RAF and working for the National Coal Board.

The friendship developed over time and the couple were married in St Columba Church almost 59 years ago.

Mrs Petrie threw herself with huge enthusiasm and energy into her husband's public life and was always at his side providing her own brand of gentle grace to every event she attended.

She will be remembered by thousands for her gift of words; she always knew the right thing to say whatever the occasion.

She was, however, happy to remain in the background and was not one for making speeches, although she was all in favour of taking action where she felt it was needed and it was she who was the power behind the establishment of senior citizens lunch clubs in Helensburgh, Rhu, Garelochhead, Rosneath and Cove and Kilcreggan. She canvassed tirelessly for her husband in every election and was closely involved in a group that provided holidays in Spain for elderly people.

She was also the inspiration behind the establishment of the New Year Swim at Rhu Marina in Helensburgh and attended herself every year to lend a hand. The swim has now raised well over £11,000 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) as well as many thousands of pounds more for other charities supported by the swimmers.

As escort to her husband, Mrs Petrie enjoyed many special occasions at his side including being a guest on the Royal Yacht Britannia when the ship visited the Gareloch.

She died at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley a month after taking ill suddenly during a Sunday morning service at Luss Parish Church on Loch Lomondside, where her husband is an elder.

The couple, who were great ecumenists and were friends with the late Cardinal Tom Winning, also attended services regularly in Catholic churches in their area.

She will always be remembered for her unassuming personality, her warm and gentle nature and her wonderful smile and she will be missed by more people than she herself would ever have believed.

She is survived by her husband, Billy, daughter Elizabeth and son, Billy. A second daughter, Barbara, died suddenly two years ago.

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