Great-great-great grand-daughter of Robert Burns.

Born: January 29, 1922; Died: January 5, 2012

JANET Elsie-May Coom, who has died aged 89, was the great-great-great grand-daughter of Robert Burns and as befits a direct descendant of the Bard, she had a lifelong passion for poetry.

Until she became seriously ill with cancer, she eloquently championed the great man's life and work with regular talks and speeches to Burns clubs and societies. She was still active in 2009 when Scotland celebrated the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth.

"To have the blood of Robert Burns in your veins is an honour and responsibility," she said.

Mrs Coom, who was known by her middle name Elsie-May, was born in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Her mother Eliza, who graduated with honours from Glasgow University, was a language teacher and her father, MacDonald Halliday, a mining engineer. The couple lived and worked in Chile but Eliza returned home to Scotland so that their daughter could be born here.

Resuming their life in South America, young Elsie-May spent her early childhood growing up with her two brothers, Iain and Clyde, who both predeceased her, in the Chilean city of Iquiqui. Mr Halliday worked in the nitrate mining industry in the remote Atacama Desert, one of the world's driest areas.

At the age of eight, the family returned to Scotland following the collapse of the nitrate industry, and went back to their origins in Rothesay. She attended Rothesay Academy, later moving to Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow when her eldest brother Iain went to university. He went on to develop the continuous casting method of steel production for British Steel while Clyde worked as an engineer for the GPO, setting up telephone exchanges.

When she left school Mrs Coom joined Roxburgh, Colin Scott & Co Shipping Agency in Glasgow, where she worked as a clerk. During the Second World War, her language skills were put to good use when she went to work for the intelligence service as a cypher.

Attached to the Auxiliary Territorial Service from 1943, she decoded information supplied in a variety of languages by agents working behind enemy lines. She saw service in Belgium and eventually Germany, achieving the rank of sergeant.

After the war she returned to Scotland to live with her mother after her father died in 1947 and worked in the retail industry, organising fashion and bridal shows for the Glasgow-based Dalys department store.

In 1958 she married William Coom, who had served in the Royal Navy's Special Boat Service during the war, seeing action in Burma and India and achieving the rank of captain. At the time he was a land surveyor but later carved out a highly successful career in the life and pensions industry.

In 1959 Mrs Coom gave birth to the couple's only child, Simon. She returned to the retail business in 1967, managing the Jean Paton bridal boutique – part of the Watt Brothers department store in Glasgow – until her retirement.

Throughout their marriage she and Bill shared a deep love of poetry and often wrote poems to each other. They were also keen travellers, globetrotting around the world together. As recently as 2007, when they were both well into their 80s, they visited Antartica. Their marriage lasted 53 years, ending in November last year when Mr Coom died of a heart-related illness.

Mrs Coom's lineage can be traced back to Betty Burns, the illegitimate daughter of the poet and Anna Park, the Bard's "Anna of the gowden locks" who was the niece of the owner of the Globe Inn, in Dumfries. On Anna Park's death in 1794 Betty was legally adopted by Jean Armour and grew up in the Burns household until she married John Thomson and settled in Shawlands, Glasgow. They had eight children and their eldest son, Robert Burns Thomson, married Eliza McNaught in 1841. Betty is buried in the Vennel Cemetery at Pollokshaws.

Robert and Eliza had nine children. The youngest, Mary, married James Fisher on January 25 (Burns' birthday), 1888, and they lived in Rothesay. Their second child was Mrs Coom's mother, Eliza.

Mrs Coom, who died at the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow, is survived by her son Simon, her grandchildren Catriona and Andrew, and her daughter-in-law Margaret.