Headteacher and leading lay member of the Roman Catholic Church;
Born: January 22, 1948; Died September 4, 2012.
Mary Ann Smith, who has died aged 64 after a lengthy battle with cancer, was a leading west of Scotland educator and lay member of the Roman Catholic Church.
Best known as a no-nonsense but much-loved headteacher, she turned around the fortunes of several primary schools, most recently St Lucy's RC Primary in Abronhill, Cumbernauld, from where she took early retirement in 2004.
St Lucy's was perhaps not in the best shape when she took on its stewardship in 1989. Yet, through her professionalism, determination and strong Catholic ethos she supported and challenged her staff and her students in a way that led to the strongest possible affirmation of her work in the HM Inspectorate of School report in 2004.
It stated: "The headteacher's... energy, enthusiasm and commitment to learning and teaching had won the strong support of staff, pupils and parents. She worked very well with staff to establish a strong ethos of improvement and achievement in the school. She provided very good leadership."
She was also instrumental in the development of a new approach for autistic children through the setting up of a specialised non-denominational unit by North Lanarkshire Council within St Lucy's in 1993. This was a prototype for language and communication units now found across Scotland. She worked closely with the unit's principal Rose Kycinski, who was to remain a close friend.
She spent almost her entire career successfully teaching in some of the most challenging areas in and around Glasgow: St Mary's, Calton; St Timothy's, Greenfield; St Cuthbert's, Possilpark; St Stephen's Dalmuir.
A large woman with a big heart she always loved one-to-one teaching, especially with less gifted or troubled children. After her retirement she took on two new challenging posts. First, a mentoring role at the primary education course at her alma mater, Glasgow University, saw her regularly travel across west central Scotland to coach and evaluate trainee teachers as they were unleashedon the classroom during their probationary periods.
Similarly, at the invitation of a family friend she became a counsellor with the Rainbows International organisation, which works with young people troubled by bereavement, separation or difficult family circumstances. She recognised that unresolved grief can lead to destructive behaviour in young people. She travelled regularly to schools across Scotland and the north of England to train fellow educators to take on this life-changing work, providing guidance and counselling to help children bounce back from severe setback.
Her faith, however, was arguably the single most important facet of her rich life. She had tried the religious life for herself, having been with the Sisters of Charity in London in the early 1970s. However, she decided that this was not her way in life and made a conscious decision to dedicate herself to a vocation as a single lay person in the church.
Having nursed her dying parents, in the 1980s she became a leading figure in the Roman Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, where she was in great demand as a guest speaker for her down-to-earth approach to discussing and lecturing on spiritual matters. It was during this time that she became firm friends with the person who arguably understood her best of all, Father Dominic Towey, now of St John the Baptist RC Church in Uddingston. Father Towey concelebrated mass and spoke of his friend at her funeral service in St Bridget's Baillieston last month.
She was also in great demand as a counsellor to people wishing to join the Roman Catholic Church. She would meet people on a weekly basis, often welcoming them into her own home, and spend months diligently preparing them for the rites that would see them enter the church at the Easter Vigil each year. In a similar way, she also took on similar roles in the ecumenical movement too.
Although fond of Lourdes, she loved to travel, often with members of her extended family to another Marian shrine at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A spiritual person throughout her life, she received the news of her cancer with tremendous calm and complete acceptance. She was inspired by the example of Pope John Paul II who used his own increasing frailty and degenerative illness as an example of how to continue living. This touched her deeply, and her family and friends are filled with new-found admiration, and no little astonishment, for the patient way she accepted the difficulties that her illness brought her and the optimistic way in which she lived out her last days.
But she loved life. Nothing gave her greater pleasure than arranging a family feast for her siblings, nieces and nephews. She introduced the younger generation of her family to a wide range of tastes and experiences from around the world that they still enjoy today in Scotland, South Africa and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Having been a regular European traveller herself in her twenties and thirties, more recently she loved to travel closer to home, enjoying several visits to the Republic of Ireland, although she was probably happiest travelling along the north coast of Scotland and visiting the rolling hills around Dalbeattie and Dumfries.
She died peacefully in Glasgow's Royal Infirmary only a few miles from Baillieston where she had lived all of her life after her patient battle with cancer. She is missed by her brother, sister, four nieces and nephews and nine grand-nieces and nephews.
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