Wartime WREN who sustained a rural community’s life across six decades

Born: 6 December 1919;

Died: 5 August 2019

Auriole Fergusson, who has died in Pitlochry aged 99, was in today’s jargon a community activist in South Ayrshire for over 30 years – though she would never have recognised the term. She was immensely caring, efficient, kind and effective in roles varying from her 25 years as a parish Minister’s wife, a councillor on Barr Community Council and on South Ayrshire Council, to being Convenor of South Ayrshire Local Health Council from its inception in 1982 till its merger in 1989.

Born in Southsea in 1919, where her father, Commander (later Sir) Geoffrey Hughes-Onslow, was serving with the Navy, she came to the family home at Barr aged three. Her family owned a small, never profitable, estate in the Stinchar Valley. As events turned out, she was to spend most of her life there. When the Second World War began, her father returned to the Navy, posted to the isle of Man. Auriole, also known as Aury, and her three younger sisters followed, with Aury joining the Women’s Royal Naval Service (the ‘Wrens’) there. Her wartime service, mostly in Liverpool, included being ordered to drill Wren trainees on the roof of the Royal Liver Building, where the chimney pots were a challenge.

In 1945 she married Lt Col Simon Fergusson, from nearby Kilkerran in the Girvan Valley, who was almost immediately posted to Cuxhaven in occupied Germany. Accompanying families were discouraged; pregnant wives were prohibited from travelling. The new Mrs Fergusson was politely challenged by an official at the gangplank of the departing troopship at Newcastle, who asked “Would you by any chance be pregnant?”. She answered, very precisely, “Not by any chance” – and was allowed to board.

After a brief period of married Army life, they farmed for some years at Leswalt, near Stranraer, before her husband decided to become a Minister. After training at New College in Edinburgh, by happy fortune an opening arose in Barr Parish, Auriole’s home village, and Simon Fergusson spent his whole parish career there, from 1956 till his retirement in the late 1970s. Auriole saw this as very much a dual role. She threw herself into the life, church and secular, and welfare of a community which was isolated, small in population and, geographically the biggest in Southern Scotland. She did much to sustain a beautiful but disadvantaged village, and help individuals in it who were facing difficulties. In time, she became a member a range of public bodies, elected and appointed, as well as a long serving Elder of the Kirk.

As Convenor of the Local Health Council – then a heavily loaded, but unpaid, role – she was seen as an exemplary chair: knowledgeable, immensely approachable and an empathetic listener, as well as fair and decisive. She encouraged all the Council’s 12 members to visit all NHS premises in its district at least once a year.

Widowed in 1982, she continued to live in Barr until in 2011, aged 91, she moved to Pitlochry, near where her younger daughter ran (and runs) a hotel. The community of Barr held a reception to mark her departure and thank her for her work there. Arriving in Perthshire, she was immediately invited to become an Elder of Tenandry Church – which, characteristically, she took up enthusiastically.

She had wide and great talents: a skilled and semi-professional upholsterer, great knowledge and love of flowers and plants; and, above all, a remarkable ability to take an interest in and, where needed and possible, to give practical help to people. She had a rare talent, based on real humanity, to care about individuals, across generations and potential social divides, always accompanied by high expectations of people – which she was not shy to express forcefully.

She was the centre of a close but scattered family. She is survived by her younger daughter and son, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Her older daughter died in a drowning accident, aged three; and her older son, the former Presiding Officer, Sir Alex Fergusson, died last year.