Born: January 21, 1937;

Died: January 27, 2022.

VERONICA, Lady Gibson, who has died aged 85, provided a vital support when her husband, the late Sir Alexander Gibson, advanced the international renown of the (now Royal) Scottish National Orchestra and created Scottish Opera in 1962.

She was an energetic and enthusiastic lady who endeared herself to generations of music lovers in Scotland and was modest to a fault, regarding her own contributions to the creation of two of Scotland’s premier arts institutions as minor. “I didn’t have any direct involvement”, she once said. “I was very happy to live my life through his.”

This however overlooks Lady Gibson’s contribution to the furtherment of music and the arts in Scotland. She was a campaigning force, often behind the scenes, but she was also authoritative, well-informed and inspiring to all who met her.

She was President of Scottish Opera from September 2013 until her death.

Known as V by her legions of friends, Veronica Waggett’s mother was from Kirriemuir and her father from Manchester; he was working in London when his daughter was born in 1937.

During the Second World War he was sent out to India and Veronica was to spend many happy years of her youth in Calcutta. She attended ballet classes run by a Russian émigré until she was 12. She was then sent to a boarding dance school in London, continuing her ballet at a school in Paris and learning French. On her return she was accepted by the Royal Ballet, but grew too tall and was advised to study more contemporary dance.

She danced in stage shows and in the London Palladium panto. Joining the Sadler’s Wells Opera (now English National Opera) she toured for two years in productions such as La Traviata, La Boheme and Bluebeard’s Castle, performing in all the main theatres in Scotland. In 1958 the company was performing an extended run of Charles Hickman’s production of The Merry Widow when she met the company’s musical director, the Motherwell-born Alexander Gibson.

Years later Lady Gibson told The Herald in a rare interview, “Dancers were regarded as inferior and people didn’t speak to us, but Alex and I saw each other across the Green Room. One evening he was standing at the stage door talking to someone I knew from Glyndebourne. She called me over and introduced us. He said, ‘I saw you at Gloucester Road tube station.’ I had seen him looking at me as he swept past me in a big black car. And really that was it.”

They married the following year and her husband ceased to be musical director of Sadler’s Wells Opera and returned north to become the first Scottish principal conductor and artistic director of the SNO. Under his dedicated leadership the orchestra built up an international reputation through its recordings and foreign tours as well as developing a strong home base at their weekly concerts throughout the winter months.

The orchestra gained a wider fame at the SNO Proms in Glasgow and at the Edinburgh Festival. Lady Gibson supported her husband through these testing years and was a popular figure with all the musicians and the orchestra’s staff.

In 1962 Sir Alex founded Scottish Opera with Peter Hemmings as the chief executive. It was a hugely adventurous project – many wondered if the company would survive especially when the first season was announced: Madama Butterfly, and Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande, then rarely heard. To add to the pressure throughout the fraught months leading up to the first night Lady Gibson was pregnant.

At the premiere of Pelléas she told me some years later when I was doing an obituary for The Herald, “When Micheline Grancher was singing her heart out as Mélisande I had to leave the King’s Theatre to have our second son, so I didn’t see the end of the opera. The company had a great success that night and there was tremendous excitement.”

With two large organisations to run, the demands on her husband’s time were tremendous. For Lady Gibson their lives were firmly rooted in Glasgow and she always considered that a great advantage. She could more easily balance her domestic life with supporting her husband, her family and the SNO and Scottish Opera, creating a wonderful family home in their Cleveden Gardens in Glasgow’s West End.

Many have recalled how her calm and friendly manner helped create a friendly atmosphere at Scottish Opera in those early years. Lady Gibson was often in the work rooms or helping backstage during rehearsals. She never expected any special treatment because her husband was the boss – she just mucked in with everyone else.

One volunteer told me, ‘‘Everyone called her V from the start and she was just lovely. Nothing was too trivial for her. Off she’d go and sort out a costume or wig.’’ There were many post performance parties and opera singalongs in the Gibson home for which Lady Gibson did all the catering herself.

One of those early visitors was Dame Janet Baker, who sang Dorabella in the famous Anthony Besch 1967 production of Cosi fan tutte. Dame Janet stayed in the Gibson’s basement and she has recalled those days in the official Scottish Opera history

“Scottish Opera”, she recalled, “was a quite unique experience and it helped me greatly. I welcomed that kind of family security. Veronica mothered me as much as her children.’’

Lady Gibson arranged outings to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs for singers who were far away from their families, and helped make the rehearsal weeks as relaxed as possible.

She preferred to take a back seat and let her husband and the singers take all the limelight. She never sought recognition and avoided confrontation. Without Alexander Gibson, it is often said, there would have been no Scottish Opera. Without Lady Gibson’s support and calm enthusiasm the company would have been without its number one supporter.

Her role, she told The Herald, was to be supportive. “There had to be someone at home looking after the family, and I was very happy to do it. It’s only a sacrifice if you really want to do something of your own. That said, Jane Hemmings [wife of Peter Hemmings] and I went to every premiere, and we used to put our children to bed at 6.30pm so we could get out.”

She retained an active interest in both the SNO and Scottish Opera. In 2013 she joined 600 young musicians from around Lanarkshire at a concert to celebrate the life of her husband. ‘‘My husband”, she told them, ‘‘would have been very pleased to see so much talent coming from young young musicians around Lanarkshire. He would have thoroughly enjoyed being here tonight.”

Sir Alex died in 1995. Their marriage had been both happy and fulfilling. She moved to a small apartment in Glasgow but maintained close connections with her many friends at both SNO and Scottish Opera.

She joined various exercise classes and retraced her youth with visits to Calcutta and had much pleasure returning to the haunts of her childhood.

Lady Gibson, who is survived by her children – Philip, James, Johnny and Claire – was a lady with a commanding, but friendly, presence and a courteous manner. Her charm, wit and elegance was a happy presence in musical life in Scotland for fifty years.