Campaigner and shopkeeper

Born January 15, 1931 Died May 5, 2009 By Frank McAveety, MSP Betty McAllister, who has died of cancer aged 78, was an indomitable campaigner for the rights of the people living in the east end of Glasgow.

Much media coverage about the area has focused on the term Calton Man, profiling the low life expectancy of men in the Calton district of Glasgow. But in the past week the Calton has lost one of its most formidable women.

Born into a loving family with her four sisters in Gretna Street, the then Betty McMahon made her way through the difficult years of economic depression in the 1930s and during wartime served in the Land Army, demonstrating even in her early youth that combination of commitment and female energy that would blossom in her community campaigning from the early 1970s until her illness rendered it impossible for her to continue.

As the leading stalwart of community organisations in the Calton, she quickly developed a reputation for campaigns and crusades that were about wanting the best for her part of the east end of Glasgow but combining them with a sharp eye for obtaining maximum media coverage. Who can forget her legendary campaign against traffic being re-routed via Bain Street at the Barras? Concerned about the dangers to young children, she came up with the fantastic idea of having the youngsters dressed up in bandages daubed with tomato sauce and created one of the most realistic of accident scenes imaginable. The photographers lapped it up.

She was dubbed by Glasgow's Evening Times as "Battling Betty" and led countless campaigns to the doors of Glasgow City Chambers and to Strathclyde Regional Council throughout the past three decades. McAllister was fearless and forthright. She put her area first and always gave it the definite article as "the Calton".

She was also no respecter of formidable political leaders and Pat Lally often faced her special style of direct speaking at city Labour Party meetings in the 1980s. And, in 1988, she confronted Margaret Thatcher when they met at Templeton's Business Centre, with the immortal lines that summed up the directness of working-class Glasgow women: "Mrs Thatcher, you can stick the poll tax where the sun don't shine."

Betty McAllister, other than her love for her husband Danny and daughter Daniella, essentially loved three things: children, older people and the Calton. She organised gala days, bus trips to Saltcoats and regular fund-raisers for special causes.

From her shop in Bain Street - Betty's Seafood, dabbed "the office" - she held court along with her local army of mighty east end women. At public meetings the sight of McAllister in full flow taking on politicians and senior officials would strike fear into even the most experienced of people.

When campaigning for a law to tackle kerb-crawling, she went to meet a Scottish minister and senior civil servants in the early years of the Scottish Parliament. It was priceless to see the look on the faces of douce, respectable Edinburgh mandarins as she reminded them about "how would they like to look out their windae at six in the evening to see a lady of the night satisfying a client" - except her words were not so delicate as that.

McAllister received recognition with a BEM in 1980 and the title of Scotswoman of the Year in 1984 from the Evening Times. But the recognition she treasured most was that of her community, who often turned to her when they needed help.

She loved the Calton and, even when there was disagreement on occasional tactics, the Calton loved her. One of her last great ambitions was to repatriate the statue of Lobby Dosser from the west end of Glasgow and return it to its ancestral home of Calton Creek; local rumour has it that she was, along with her elderly, female desperados, plotting a midnight raid on Woodlands Road to snatch the statue and place it in Bain Street facing the Barras.

Unfortunately, ill health prevented such a daring escapade from being carried out and the community of the Calton gathered to pay their final respects to Betty McAllister at St Alphonsus Church at the Barras.

She may have been a perfect example of the strong, resourceful, independent, ordinary women of the east end of Glasgow, who had to shout louder to be heard, but in the words of her husband Danny: "She was always gentle and kind to me." Betty is survived by Danny and Daniella but her legacy as a campaigner and a fighter for the east end of Glasgow will not be forgotten.