Duchess of Montrose

Duchess of Montrose

Born: September 25, 1935; Died: October 29, 2014.

CATHERINE Graham, the Duchess of Montrose who has died aged 79, was not your average duchess.

She was equally at home with her sleeves rolled up, washing dishes or serving tea to the homeless, alcoholics or drug addicts in the back streets of Govan, as she was welcoming royals and aristocracy to the ancestral lands of her husband James Graham around Drymen, near Loch Lomond.

He is the 8th Duke of Montrose, Chief of the Clan Graham, an elected hereditary peer and a former Conservative Party spokesman on Scottish Affairs in the House of Lords. When I spoke to him last night, on behalf of the Herald, he was deep in grief but grateful to know his wife was being honoured.

By chance, the future Duke and ­Duchess had both been born abroad to Scottish families - he in Rhodesia, she in Canada. After their marriage in 1970, she settled with him in Scotland and together they gave back profusely to their communities, notably around Drymen and Loch Lomond, where the Duchess was active in local affairs, but also in Glasgow, which she came to love.

The ancestral seat Buchanan Castle in Drymen (18 miles north-west of Glasgow) having become dilapidated, they lived at Auchmar House, near Balmaha on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond.

Catherine gained the title Duchess of Montrose in 1992 when her husband's father, James Angus Graham, the 7th Duke of Montrose, died. But the desperate or destitute she helped care for at the Preshal (Gaelic for "precious") Trust, a Christian charity in Aboukir Street, Govan, of which she was president, knew her simply as Cathy, rather than the formal "Your Grace."

She had given her support to Preshal soon after it was founded in 2002 by the former alcoholic Govanite May Nicholson, once described as "the Mother Teresa of Govan".

The Duchess and the recovered Clydeside alcoholic: two great ladies with backgrounds as different as chalk and cheese but nothing less than saints to those they helped to survive and prosper.

They started with a kettle, a toaster and loaves of bread brought by the Duchess. They later had the backing of another Govanite, Sir Alex Ferguson, who as a boy (and amateur football player for Queen's Park FC) once delivered milk on Aboukir Street where the Preshal Trust is based.

Sir Alex is the appeal patron of the Trust. (Aboukir Street was named not so much after the Egyptian town of that name, but after the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Aboukir built by John Brown & Co near that same street in Govan at the turn of the 20th century.)

The Duchess has died, but her friend May persists in helping suffering Glasgow folks get better. May once described Sir Alex Ferguson as having "a heart as wide as the Clyde." The Duchess responded: "You, too."

Catherine Elizabeth McDonnell Young was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on September 25, 1935. Her mother, Mary Moody, was of Cornish origin.

Her father Norman Andrew Thomson Young was the son of Scottish immigrants, his name still revered among Manitobeans. He was an educator, the first headmaster of the now-famous Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg.

As war threatened in the late 1930s, he joined up as a reservist with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada. After war was declared, he was a captain with the Cameron Highlanders during the famous allied Dieppe raid, the unsuccessful precursor to D-Day.

With the Camerons' piper driving them on from the beaches, Captain Young was killed just inland and is buried at Hauteville-sur-mer, France. Six out of 10 of the Canadian Cameronians were killed in the action, often forgotten against our focus on D-Day.

Catherine's father's commitment to Scotland, the UK and the King stayed with her and she became a proud Scotswoman. Meeting May Nicholson helped both ladies focus on what was most important to both of them -- people. May chose the name Preshal because she felt it had universal appeal.

"To us, everyone who walks through this door is precious," May and the Duchess liked to say.

Away from Govan, the Duchess supported the Duke in farming, gardening and anything else that needed to be done. Royalty and the relatives, British and Canadian, often appeared at Auchmar House. But the Duchess often looked her happiest while welcoming those men, women, boys and girls for whom she had poured tea in Govan.

She also invited them to her home near Balmaha, where husband James, the Duke, was not only a welcoming but inquisitive host.

Having spent his earliest years in a mud hut on his father's burgeoning farm in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, the future Duke of Montrose learned to ask questions.

When he met a lady who asked more questions than he, marriage was probably inevitable. While the Duke speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, the Duchess maintained her Canadian accent throughout her life, but slipped easily into Rab C. Nesbitt patter when appropriate.

The Duchess of Montrose is survived by her husband James, the 8th Duke, and their children Lady Hermione, James the Marquess of Graham and Lord Ronald.