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Professor Elisabeth Mapstone

Dundee University's first woman professor

Dundee University's first woman professor

Born: September 30, 1925; Died: November 28, 2013.

ELISABETH Mapstone, who has died aged 88, was a pioneer of social work in Scotland and throughout the UK, from child care, through general care for the needy of all ages, and latterly in her devoted concern for the aged. She was a leading researcher and activist on social work, particularly involving children and child abuse when the latter theme was still relatively hush-hush.

In 1975, she became the first woman professor at the modern-day University of Dundee. She remained there for almost 20 years and retired in 1994 as Professor Emeritus of social work and social policy, still advising teachers and students, until ill health prevented her

Prof Mapstone and her team soon put Dundee on the map, UK-wide, for their breakthrough work on social care. She co-authored, along with Andrew Kendrick and Murray Simpson, the influential report titled Getting it Together: Services for Children and Young People in Difficulty (1996). The report explored the implications for social work caused by the changes in local government in Scotland in the preceding years. It welcomed local Children's Services Plans but stressed that national government must play its part in providing resources and integrated policies for children and young people. It also stressed that the views of parents and children should be incorporated in any policies.

Along with Andrew Kendrick, a colleague in her department at Dundee, Prof Mapstone wrote the report The Functions of Child Care Reviews in Scotland: A Preliminary Investigation, part of a research project on the perceptions and functions of statutory child care reviews. Prof Mapstone was also specifically called in by the Scottish Office of Whitehall in 1990 as the key adviser to Greenock-born Glasgow Sheriff Brian Kearney when, as a "floating sheriff," he led a UK government inquiry into child care services in Fife. She was highly praised for her efforts in that project.

She was a patron of the Edinburgh-based Sutherland Trust, an independent charity which promotes the study of human relations in education, social services and health care. She was also heavily involved in the Carolina House Trust in Dundee, which evolved from the 19th century Dundee orphanage and now helps children in multiple areas including foster care.

Her professorship at Dundee University began in 1975, making her the first woman professor there. Margaret Fairlie of Dundee Royal Infirmary and what was then University College, Dundee, was the first ever woman professor in Scotland but at the time University College, Dundee was part of St Andrews..

Later in life, Prof Mapstone went on to become chairwoman of Age Concern Dundee, presiding over its move to the current headquarters in the city's Fiveways centre. There and at its Broughty Ferry Centre, the organisation provides support, care, information, learning opportunities, leisure activities and general support for older people in and around Dundee. Prof Mapstone was a cheery and popular figure at the centres, where she knew staff and most visitors by their first name.

Elisabeth Lesley Grant Pugh was born in Streatham, south London, in 1925, only child of a dentist and headmistress. She attended St Helen's School in Northwood, north-west London, where she became head girl, but was evacuated to Wales for some time after the Blitz.

With the war over, she gained a First Class Honours degree in sociology from the London School of Economics. She started work as a child care officer, first in Manchester and later in Somerset where she met and married, in 1968, a fellow social worker from Taunton.

In 1969, the couple moved to Scotland where Harry Mapstone had been offered the job as the first director of social work for Fife and was one of the first four office bearers of the newly-formed Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW). He was the first president of the ADSW in 1970 when he died suddenly after an asthma attack.

His distraught widow returned south and, to keep her mind busy and help maintain her husband's legacy, took a master's degree in social work at Brunel University, Middlesex. It was in 1975 that she returned to Scotland when she was appointed professor of political science and social policy at the University of Dundee, which had become independent in 1967, and became the only female during professorial meetings.

She retired in 1994 but remained Professor Emeritus until her death. She was made an OBE in 1986 for her services to social work.

She retired to Wormit, overlooking the banks of the Firth of Tay at the southern end of the Tay Rail Bridge, but died in the Little Cairnie Hospital in Arbroath while she was planning to move into a nursing home there. After her funeral at Dundee crematorium, her ashes were taken by relatives to be interred with those of her husband Harry in the cathedral city of Wells, Somerset.

She is survived by a cousin, Richard Elkins of Glasgow, her stepdaughter Hilary and stepson Richard from her husband's previous marriage, and extended family.

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