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Flora Garry

Flora Garry, Scottish poet; born September 30,1900, died June 16, 2000

She came with the century and she has gone with the century - and within that most remarkable span in all human history, Flora Garry established herself as one of the leading ladies of Scottish literature.

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The fact that her name is not as widely known as it ought to be is due to two factors: she wrote mainly in her native Aberdeenshire dialect - and she left it dangerously late before revealing her exquisite talent. Nevertheless, Flora takes her place as the last of a triumvirate of North-east rural poets who did wonders for their native tongue, the others being Charles Murray and J C Milne. At a time when the Doric dialect is rapidly disappearing as a form of everyday speech, Flora remained the shining light of its authenticity. Her poetry sprang from the natural currency of her upbringing in the camaraderie of the fairm-toun of Auchmunziel, near the Buchan village of New Deer. She conjured up the scent of the cornyard, the moss and the midden, the still of a summer's day and the howl of a winter's night. Her parents were both writers and long-established farming folk. Her mother, Helen Campbell, was well-known for her radio plays, while Archie Campbell was a flamboyant character, a Highland athlete and dancer, and devoted election agent of the colourful Robert Boothby, the local MP, as well as being a freelance columnist under the pen-name of The Buchan Farmer. Flora Macdonald Campbell became a teacher, via New Deer School, Peterhead Academy, and Aberdeen University, a talented scholar who would wander past the professors' homes of an evening, observe the stylish dinner parties and contrast them with the humbler life of farming folk. She put all that into a poem called The Professor's Wife, the denouement of which was that she crossed the divide one day and found herself in the role of that same wife. In reality, that is exactly what happened to her. For she married Robert C Garry, who would become the distinguished Regius Professor of Physiology at Glasgow University, having carved his own piece of early fame as a house doctor at Glasgow Western Infirmary in the 1920s. With the discovery of insulin in Canada, young Garry obtained a phial and was given permission to use it on a dying patient one night. He, therefore, became the person who introduced insulin to this country - and the patient lived. Flora settled in as the professor's wife, a supportive and contented role which almost certainly delayed the flowering of her own talent. As she later explained: ''Just as happiness has no history, neither does it write poetry!'' It took the stress of the Second World War to stimulate the poet within her. Even then, she was a pensioner before her poetry began to appear in book form and we became aware of the wasted years. She had been writing away quietly and privately since those wartime days, though never in great volume. She wrote beautifully in English but it was in her native Buchan tongue that she came into her own. That came from the very marrow of her being and she rightly resented the fact that such an expressive language should have been consigned to the lower order, not to be breathed in the presence of the genteel. ''Scots is my mither tongue,'' she would say, ''associated with all sorts of cherished memories - of home, landscape, folk, work, weather, songs, stories.'' She perceived beauty in the rolling, if unspectacular, farmlands of Buchan, an area scarce of hills. But there was always Bennachie, away to the west, as well as her own Bennygoak, the title of an early poem. Here is just a whiff of her language in those opening verses: It was jist a skelp o the muckle furth A sklyter o roch grun Fin granfadder's fadder bruke it in Fae the hedder an the funn Granfadder sklatit barn and byre, Brocht water tae the close Pat fail-dykes ben the bare brae face An a cairt road tull the moss

Bit wir fadder sottert i the yard An skeppit amo' bees An keepit fancy dyeuks an doos 'At warna muckle eese. He bocht aul' wizzent horse an kye An scrimpit muck an seed; Syne, clocherin wi a craichly hoast, He dwine't awa, an deed. Flora Garry despaired of much of the modern dialect writing, suspecting it was first thought up in English and then translated to suit. But she was not one to run down the present. Indeed, she remained not only an incredibly beautiful woman to the end but also a devastatingly youthful and witty one. Retirement years were spent in Comrie, Perthshire, where she died, having been pre-deceased by her husband and only son, Frank. She is survived by daughter-in-law Anne and grandchildren James and Elizabeth. Her funeral at Perth Crematorium on Monday will be followed eventually by a service at New Deer.

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