Born: October 10, 1929; Died: November 11, 2012.
May Nicol, who has died aged 83, was one of the leading teachers of history in Scotland and former deputy head of George Watson's College in Edinburgh. She was once described by a former pupil as the finest teacher she had met, a description shared by almost everyone who knew her; pupils, parents and colleagues alike.
Born in Dollar, she was dux of Dollar Academy in 1945 and the academic excellence she displayed at school was soon matched at St Andrews University. She graduated with a first-class honours in modern and medieval history and was offered a Carnegie Scholarship. However, she turned this down since she had already made up her mind she wanted to teach.
Having done her teacher training in Dundee, her first post was in the history department at Sutton Coldfield High School in 1951 from where she went to Roundhay High School for Girls in Leeds as assistant head of department in 1954.
In 1956 she expressed a wish to return to Scotland to be closer to her parents at a time when her mother's health was failing, and so it was opportune that the post of head of history fell vacant at Craigholme School in Glasgow. She established herself as one of the leading teachers of history in Scotland and it was little surprise she was encouraged to apply for the head of history at George Watson's Ladies' College in 1960.
Throughout the interview process, she faced some stiff opposition, but the headmistress, Hilda Fleming, later disclosed that her abilities shone through.
The amalgamation of George Watson's Ladies' College and George Watson's College took place in 1974 and Roger Young, principal of the combined school, appointed Ms Nicol as one of his two deputies. He had, he said, no hesitation in making this appointment, given Ms Nicol's profound influence on the school community; a sentiment echoed by his successor, Frank Gerstenberg. Both men knew instinctively that, in Ms Nicol, they had someone who would provide unfailing loyalty and the calm authority to cope with whatever crisis might unfold.
The fact Ms Nicol chose to stay at Watson's despite being sought out for headships elsewhere is testimony to her deep trust in the Watson's community.
Yet, if her life was, by both choice and necessity, devoted to school, she relished her travels, particularly those which took her to the many and varied historical sites of her beloved Scotland, and to South Africa to visit her sister; she was a regular concert-goer at the Usher Hall and the Queen's Hall, and a keen bird-watcher.
In retirement, she gave selflessly of her time to the National Museum of Scotland, both as a tour guide and assisting with the membership administration for the Friends of the Museum.
She was also committed to charity work, principally working in the Cancer Research UK shop as a member of the Edinburgh fundraising committee and at the annual Art Exhibition in Adam House. She was also a governor at Lomond School and at George Watson's College.
She is survived by her sister Beth.
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