Betty Brown

Born: 27.11.1927

Died: 28.6. 2016

BETTY Brown, teacher, local politician and activist who made headlines for her work as a peace campaigner and political activist, has died, aged 87.

Labelled ‘Battling Betty Brown’ by the ever-alliterative tabloid headline writers, the description offered an evocative, heart-felt image. However the lady herself never felt it appropriate.

She considered herself to be rather more subdued, soft-spoken, a person who got things done rather quietly, without ever resorting to brashness.

What’s inarguable however is that Betty Brown, born Elizabeth Philomina Lynch, did indeed get things done. Growing up in Clydebank she first became involved in politics through the local Women's Guild, went on to become a local councillor and a Baillie of her home town.

A non-conflicted egalitarian, Baillie Brown teamed up with firebrand socialist Jimmy Reid to take on Ted Heath’s Government in 1973 and helped to launch the Clydebank Rent Strike, despite government threats of imprisonment.

However Betty Brown’s politics stretched beyond making sure local people would not suffer punishing rent increases. The lady with no formal education had already marched side by side with Jimmy Reid in the UCS sit-in of 1971. And Brown was a strident peace campaigner, who went on to achieve a poignant legacy in having the Dove of Peace incorporated into the Clydebank coat of arms.

What makes Betty Brown’s achievements all the more remarkable however is she did not have the easiest start in life. Born Betty Lynch in Dalmuir to Dublin born parents, her father, John Lynch, lost his life in WW1 when baby Betty was just two years old. Then when the schoolgirl was just 12 years old her mother was shot dead – by Betty’s brother.

Betty’s daughter, actress Barbara Rafferty, explains the tragedy.

“My grandmother was the victim of gunshots. The family had been evacuated to Hamilton during the Blitz and my aunt’s husband, who was a soldier on leave, had taken a gun into the house.

“Apparently, my mother’s wee brother Peter, picked up the gun and shot his own mother by accident. My own mother had been out shopping at this time and came back found the disaster. “

Betty Lynch, now an orphan, went to live with her aunts. She left school as soon as she was legally able to and worked in Singer’s Sewing Machine in Clydebank.

Marriage followed at 17 to local man David Brown and the couple had three children, Barbara-Ann, Pamela and David.

However, Betty Brown’s desire to learn never abated. Her lifelong dream was to become a primary teacher and in her mid-forties she enrolled in college, took Highers and then applied to Jordanhill Teacher Training College.

The dream was realised when Betty Brown landed a teaching job at Gavinburn Primary School in Old Kilpatrick, where she was regarded as an inspirational teacher.

Yet, her devotion to the children in her care always ran in parallel with her unequivocal desire to change the world for the better.

“She passionately believed in helping others. She was a real, true socialist,” says Barbara Rafferty. “The woman was incorruptible and would never bend. She had a real West of Scotland determination to make life better for others.

“What my mother gave me was a great sense of justice. I still rage at injustice and she instilled that in me. I still rail against the rampant poverty I see I Glasgow.

“What she didn’t assume was that working class people should be limited. That’s why she encouraged all of us to go for the dream. My mother encouraged me to go to drama school in an era when to declare such an intent was to be told ‘Away, yer heid’s full of broken bottles. Only toffs go.’ My mother didn’t think that way at all. And when I said I would settle for a career in teaching she put her foot down and said ‘Not at all! You’re going to be an actress.’”

Ms Rafferty adds; “What my mother also had was beautiful style. And class. She had very little money but somehow she had a dressmaker across the road make her clothes. My mother always managed to pull it off. And it wasn’t only her who looked great. The three children were always well turned out.”

Betty Brown was “a great manager of money” and made sure the family had regular holidays. When the children grew up, the couple travelled a great deal.

They liked to go to Communist countries such as Cuba, where they felt the citizens were simpatico. The Browns would go to the Copacabana Club in Havana, where Betty, a very talented singer, would regale patrons with her rendition of Begin The Beguine. The band loved her and demanded she sing each time she appeared.

In retirement, Betty Brown enjoyed gardening, dancing and a lot of singing. But in more recent years, she suffered from Alzheimer’s and was confined to a care home. David Brown cared devotedly for his wife in recent years, until his own ill-health and the passing years made it impossible.

“My mother suffered from this horrible illness for years, but she had moments of clarity, and remained positive, really happy until the end,” says Barbara Rafferty. “The illness robbed her of much her present memory, but somehow it left her peaceful.

“I sang to her just before she died and she smiled. And what was wonderful was her last hours were spent with her loving family.”

Barbara Brown is survived by her three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Her funeral will take place at North Dalnottar Cemetery in Clydebank on Tuesday at 11.30am.