Professor of Law

Professor of Law

Born: March 17, 1930; Died: June 9, 2014

Rhea Martin, who has died aged 84, was the daughter of Lewis Grassic Gibbon, custodian of his legacy and a woman with an intellect as sharp and formidable as her father's.

Whilst he was acclaimed as a writer — Sunset Song is seen by many as the finest Scottish book of all time — she immersed herself in the drama of the legal world and courtroom, gaining a reputation as a hugely-respected academic and no-nonsense Justice of the Peace.

Though she lived all her life in Welwyn Garden City, where her father died just before she turned five, she returned many times to his spiritual home in the Howe of the Mearns, to support the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Centre set up to celebrate his life and works.

Grassic Gibbon, pseudonym of James Leslie Mitchell, was a farmer's son born in Auchterless and raised in Arbuthnott, south of Stonehaven. He married his former classmate Rebecca "Ray" Middleton and after leaving Scotland their daughter Rhea Sylvia Leslie Martin was born in London, followed by their son Daryll, who was still a baby when their father died of peritonitis just short of his 34th birthday. The family had settled in Welwyn Garden City where Rebecca displayed the smeddum, or grit, Grassic Gibbon wrote of in his short story of the same name, as she raised the youngsters on her own, far from her roots. Young Rhea was educated at Christ's Hospital, an historic school and hospital in Hertford and had originally planned to become a history teacher. However, aged 17, she had been allowed to visit a courtroom, the Assize Court in Hereford, and was immediately hooked, describing the experience as pure theatre.

She went up to King's College, London where she graduated LLB and went on to become a barrister, one of the few women in the profession in the immediate post-war period. She married her husband Gil Martin in Welwyn Garden City in 1954 and gave up the legal profession to raise their family of three sons.

On returning to work, she then fulfilled her early ambition and became a history teacher at a girls' school before moving to Hatfield Polytechnic as a law lecturer. There she established its school of law and became dean of the department. She then played a major role in the transformation of the polytechnic into the University of Hertfordshire as a pro vice-chancellor. She was made an honorary Doctor of Law and when she retired from the university she maintained her interest in employment law as chair of an employment tribunal in London.

Mrs Martin, who was vice-chairman of the national association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, was made an OBE for her work on behalf of the organisation.

She had also been involved in local politics, serving as a councillor, and spent 30 years as a magistrate, finally stepping down from the Hatfield and Mid Herts benches, of which she had previously been chairman, in 2000. There she was known for administering the law without suffering fools gladly but with a keen sense of justice and an understanding of human frailties and inadequacies.

On retirement she reflected that the courtroom remained a theatre of the real world, with both spheres sharing a significant characteristic: "The play and the players are a mirror which invite us to reflect on our own lives and our own experiences, likewise the court. And so we attend each sitting not knowing whether it will be a tragedy, comedy, mystery, farce or pantomime."

In addition to her packed professional life, she worked assiduously to maintain her father's legacy. She assisted publishers, writers, academics and other interested parties and supported the Grassic Gibbon Centre in Arthbuthnott, donating archive material including family heirlooms, books, papers and photographs. She also attended the annual Grassic Gibbon dinner in his honour.

Her father, who began his writing career as a teenage journalist in Aberdeen, later joined the army and RAF before turning to writing full-time and enjoying an energetic burst of literary creativity over just a few years in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Sunset Song, the first in his trilogy A Scots Quair was published in 1932.

He also amassed a big collection of books himself, running to some 300 volumes, which Mrs Martin presented to Edinburgh University between 1988 and 1992. The National Library of Scotland holds his manuscript collection.

Meanwhile his daughter continued to correspond with people from all over the world who were interested in his work. Latterly, Parkinson's Disease took hold but one of the last things her family was able to tell her was that filming had been completed on the latest adaption of Sunset Song — 15 years after she first gave filmmaker Terence Davies an option on the book.

Her hope was that the production would continue the work she and her mother had undertaken to keep Grassic Gibbon's work relevant and alive and that it would bring his story to the attention of a new audience. Having seen images of former model Agyness Deyn in the role she was content that she looked the part of the heroine Chris Guthrie.

Mrs Martin, who was predeceased by her husband Gil, is survived by their sons Alister, Guy and Robin, 10 grandchildren, six-great-grandchildren and her brother Daryll.