AGNES Curran, the first woman in Britain to run an allmale prison, has died at the age of 85.

A former nurse, active volunteer and great-grandmother, she made headlines in 1979 when she was appointed governor at Dungavel Prison near Strathaven.

Even in her final months, Curran remained active in the community, especially in her long-standing work in mental health.

Born Agnes Brennan, she was the eldest of nine children and cared for some of her younger siblings even as she was raising her own young family.

She met Edward, her husband of 54 years, at Ravenscraig Hospital in Greenock, where they both worked.

Edward died last month.

Mark, their son, said: "She died of a broken heart. When dad died, she said she wanted to go."

He added: "She felt being made the first female governor of a male prison was a great achievement. She felt she was opening doors forwomen.

"Getting the MBE in 1984 was an honour for her but she felt she was just the front person. She was a real lady."

A native of Gourock, Curran rose to be deputy matron at Ravenscraig Hospital before transferring for a year to the Royal College, Edinburgh.

There, she studied for a nursing administrative certificate with honours. After 22 years in nursing, she changed direction and began working for the prison service.

When she was made assistant governor of Gateside Prison in 1969, she was also chairwoman of the Greenock branch of the Royal College of Nursing and had been a volunteer at the prison for some time.

Curran stayed at the women's prison until its closure in 1975, when Cornton Vale opened. She became deputy governor there.

Four years later, she made history when, as the newly appointed governor of HMP Dungavel, she became the first woman to hold such a post in an all-male jail. Her achievement was marked at a Women of the Year luncheon that same year.

Awonderful communicator, Curran was in great demand as a speaker, invariably on the themes of caring for people less fortunate than ourselves and not dismissing people just because they are in prison or have a disability.

"We try to preserve human dignity as much as possible, by imagining ourselves in the prisoner's position, " she said while working at Cornton Vale.

Curran also set up In-work Ltd, a programme that offered work to people with mental health problems, in addition to being district organiser for the WRVS Inverclyde.

She was a member of the Scottish Association forMental Health - for which she chaired the Inverclyde association and was a member of its community care forum - and many other groups.

Dr Fay Rogers, a friend, said:

"Being made governor of a male prison was a big step and proved there was no reason why a woman couldn't be governor. She brought to that job a good rapport with the prisoners and I think the prisoners respected her."

In an interview she gave after she took over at Dungavel, Curran said: "I don't see them as murderers, rapists and robbers. I see them as men and I expect them to behave like men.

"I have 100 men here and I run this institution by courtesy of the prisoners. If they choose to be nasty and aggressive, the tables can turn very quickly. Everything in the garden is lovely one day and you hit the headlines the next.

"To have to punish a man makes me very annoyed - annoyed that he could be so stupid.

"I remind him his family is doing this sentence. That's what it's all about."

A firm believer that there is good in everyone, she was an enthusiastic advocate of training for freedom (TFF) programmes at the prison.

"The problem with locking up a man for a long time is to see he survives psychologically, " she said. "When the courts sentence a man to prison, do the public everwonderwhat we do with a man for that length of time? It's not enough to give him a bed and three square meals and see that the workshops conform to the Factory Acts."

Acknowledging the importance of her roots, she said:

"My mother was a bonnie woman and the best manager I ever worked for. She had a saying, famous in our house; 'If I can't sit down, then you can't sit down.' So, we were all busy - constructively busy.

"She thought the boys were pure magic and the girls were helpmates. We all had our lists of tasks to do and the epilogue to my list was to set a tray for tea forMother and Father, and the slippers by the fire."

Curran is survived by her children, Mark, John and Angela, grandsons Nicholas and Matthew, and greatgrandson, Lewis.

Agnes Curran, prison governor;

born February 12, 1920, died September 29, 2005.