ANNIE T ALTSCHUL died on the morning of Christmas Eve, and on December 29 many members of the nursing profession in Scotland gathered, with some of Annie's non-nursing colleagues and friends, for a funeral service at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh.

In keeping with her wishes, the service was non-religious and many who attended thought it was typical of Annie that, having got us together, we were left to work out for ourselves how best to fill the half-hour slot. Some of her favourite music was played and tributes were delivered by Professor Phil Barker, professor of psychiatric nursing practice at Newcastle University; Dr Lisbeth Hockey OBE, retired colleague and long-time friend; and myself as head of the department nursing studies at Edinburgh University - the post once held by Annie.

When told that she had only two weeks or less left to live, Annie had wanted to go home from hospital. But going home to die was not a feasible option, not least on account of Christmas being only a few days away. So Annie arranged her move to a nursing home which she thought would at least be more homely than a ward.

For the many friends and colleagues who spent time with Annie over her last weeks of life, the very best thing was to see her still in control of her own affairs and with her razor-sharp intellect still intact.

In the end, and after a lifetime which carried much pain as well as great pleasure, Annie Altschul died peacefully and with the self-respect and dignity she had long believed was the right of every patient in the care of the health service.

Working to improve the lot of the mentally ill was Annie Altschul's lifetime's work. Her career as a nurse, as a teacher, and as a researcher in the field of psychiatric nursing, spanned some 40 years in formal employment and a further 20 years in retirement.

On her retirement in 1983, after almost 20 years as a member of staff in Edinburgh University, and culminating in her promotion in 1976 to the chair of nursing studies, Annie Altschul was accorded the fairly rare privilege - and especially for a woman - of being made an emeritus professor.

This distinction acknowledged both a professorial contribution which had extended beyond the confines of her own department in the university and a professional contribution which had given her standing, nationally and internationally, as one of the best-known psychiatric nurses.

Annie Altschul trained as a nurse for the mentally ill in the early 1940s at an Army mental hospital which had been set up at Mill Hill school in London. Annie had come to London in 1939, with her mother, sister and young nephew, fleeing from Austria under the threat of Nazi rule. She worked first as a mother's help to learn English and then qualified as a general nurse and midwife, before finding her niche in psychiatric nursing.

Later, she contended that psychiatric nurses ''recruit themselves'' and that ''people who take to psychiatric nursing are different from those who want to be general nurses''. She believed that psychiatric nurses have an ''affinity for the underdog''. That was certainly true of Annie.

After completing her training at Mill Hill, and her fortunate exposure there to Dr Maxwell Jones's progressive conceptualisation of a mental hospital as a ''therapeutic community'', Annie moved on in 1946 to the Maudsley Hospital.

There, in turn, she contributed to the development of its early reputation as one of Britain's most progressive centres for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. She moved up from staff nurse to sister and then into the post of sister tutor. It was in that post Annie began to practise the unique approach and style of teaching which, over the years, was to exert such a profound influence on her followers .

Her views on the role of the psychiatric nurse, and on how such nurses should be educated and trained, were clear and simple and centred firmly on the pre-eminent importance of a trusting relationship between patient and nurse.

She continued to push out the boundaries of her knowledge and interests. While she was nursing at the Maudsley, she also had studied for a degree in psychology at Birkbeck College and in later life she completed a mathematics degree with the Open University.

But her life was not all work and no play. She was passionate about music, especially opera, and was a regular attender at Usher Hall concerts and a frequent traveller to music festivals abroad.

She was an avid reader, great cook, keen bridge player, and a well-travelled woman. It was this combination of intellectual prowess and varied accomplishments which made Annie Altschul such an interesting person to know and, to every sense, she was larger than life.

Her life in Edinburgh began in 1964 when she joined the department of nursing studies in Edinburgh University.

She came to her lectureship as an experienced nurse teacher and already having had published

her first two books, Psychiatric

Nursing (1957) and Psychology for Nurses (1962). When she joined the department, the pioneering integrated degree/nursing programme was in its early stages of development. Nursing studies having just been granted status as a full graduating subject.

Annie knew that this was a ground-breaking programme and that its graduates would become, as many have, the future leaders of the nursing profession. In the face of initial opposition and lingering scepticism from within the university's medical school, Annie Altschul was never afraid to speak out in defence of university-based education and research for nurses and nursing.

She was one of the members of the department of nursing studies who won the respect of members of other disciplines around the university and, in particular, there are eminent psychiatrists and psychologists who regard Annie Altschul's intellect and contribution to be of the highest order.

In 1976, after earlier promotion from lecturer to senior lecturer, she was promoted to the chair of nursing studies when its first incumbent, Dr Margaret Scott Wright, left to continue her eminent career in Canada. Professor Altschul also succeeded her as head of the department. During her tenure, Annie oversaw the introduction of master's courses in nursing administration, nursing education, and health education.

This expansion was accompanied by an ever-expanding role for the department in postgraduate research training for nurses, midwives, and health visitors through study for higher research degrees.

Outside of the department, Annie Altschul continued to make a notable contribution to developments in nursing and healthcare through her tireless membership of a wide range of committees and organisations, both at home and abroad.

The contributions which she made both in and out of nursing were recognised respectively in the conferment in 1978 as one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal College of Nursing of the UK and in the award of a CBE in 1983.

She was, in so many ways, a remarkable woman who made a remarkable contribution over the course of her long and active life. She will be greatly missed, but long remembered.

Annie T Altschul, CBE, BA, MSc, RGN, RMN, RNT, FRCN, Professor Emeritus of Nursing Studies, Edinburgh University; born February 18, 1919, died, December 24, 2001.

Alison Tierney