Margot Christie

Born: October 7, 1925;

Died: February 26, 2024

Margot Christie, who has died aged 98, was a popular teacher at Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh and a groundbreaking boys rugby coach when women’s involvement in the sport was virtually unknown. One of her star pupils was Dougie Morgan of Scotland and British Lions fame.

A primary school teacher who also taught French, she worked firstly at Melville College from 1950 and then Stewart’s Melville College following the schools’ amalgamation in 1973. She retired in 1986 following an exceptional contribution of 36 years outstanding service.

A warm personality and strong sense of vocation allied to her genuine interest in and affection for all pupils irrespective of ability, marked her out as one of the college’s most capable, dedicated and fondly remembered teachers. Her deep interest in her pupils was reflected in her ability to recall extensive personal and family details with many remaining very grateful for her input in shaping their early lives.

Her old-school core of values encompassing good manners, punctuality, being smartly turned out and consideration for others were inculcated in her charges as lifelong guidelines. As one former pupil commented following her death, “She was the jewel in the crown of the school.”

She taught at Stewart’s Melville College in EdinburghShe taught at Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh (Image: free)

Gwendoline Margot Hewitt Christie was born in Perth, Western Australia, to parents George and Beatrice nee Dillon and along with older brother Arthur, initially brought up there where she attended the State School. Her father was then operating a farm on land gifted him in recognition of his services to Australia in the First World War. He appears to have had a varied career, reportedly being involved in the oil and rubber industries and being a heating engineer. Margot was named Gwendoline after an aunt but was always known as Margot.

In 1931 when Margot was aged five, the family returned to Edinburgh and lived at first in Portobello before moving to Great Stuart Street in the Moray Feu in the New Town. She began attending Edinburgh Ladies’ College in nearby Queen Street (later the Mary Erskine School) while brother Arthur attended Melville College, also then nearby in Melville Street.

After leaving school where she had done well particularly in drawing, dance and gym, Margot undertook an MA at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1946. Next she studied for a diploma in education involving teacher training at Moray House from which she graduated in 1947, awarded a rating of Very Good Plus, foreshadowing future professional success.

Once the war finished she pursued her interest in French by visiting Paris, a trip funded by her brother’s demob payment.

Read more

After completing her studies she arranged a post as exchange teacher for a year in Marseille, improving her French and enabling her to teach it.

On return to Edinburgh she taught in several schools before moving towards the end of Christmas term 1950 to Melville College. She taught different age groups, mostly towards the upper end of primary, including French to older boys. She also played a full part in extra-curricular activities including coaching boys at rugby for more than 20 years. Her fellow pupil Dougie Morgan remembered that Margot was responsible for his first coaching session.

Former pupil Ken Richards also recalled how after training sessions she waited till the last boy emerged from the dressing room to check all had clean knees to avoid damage to the school’s reputation through boys’ dirty knees! A good tennis player herself, she was twice ladies’ doubles champion at Dean Tennis Club with a colleague and helped coach it alongside squash and badminton at school.

Many pupils became high achievers including Sir Fraser Stoddart who in 2016 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He thought she went “beyond”, i.e. was far above the norm as a teacher. Another was Emeritus Professor Alasdair McDowall, awarded membership of the Order of Australia for services to electron microscopy. However, Margot’s approach to teaching was to be inclusive, giving all the same attention, driven by a desire to instill good values and broaden pupils’ horizons

(Image: One of her star pupils was Dougie Morgan of Scotland and British Lions fame)

From 1973 onwards she continued in similar vein at Stewart’s Melville, playing a full part in various activities including music, educational trips and encouraging participation in a variety of sports such as hockey and basketball alongside rugby and cricket. On retirement in 1986 she received many well deserved accolades.

In 1982 she made a significant contribution to an exhibition for the 150th anniversary of Melville College while in 2019 she was accorded the honour of unveiling a commemorative plaque on the former site of the school in Melville Street.

In retirement she enjoyed crosswords, Scrabble and pursued her musical and Scottish country dancing interests. She also travelled extensively in Europe, Asia and Australasia and was a well-known and popular member of the community in the Moray Feu where she was instrumental in organising their Ladies’ Tea in the area. On the publication of a 200th year anniversary book of the Feu, it was noted that Margot was its longest resident having lived there for 86 years, many with her brother and mother.

Retired Sheriff Principal Ted Bowen, a pupil of Margot’s at Melville College, recalled that it was a pleasure to be in her class and described her as dedicated, charismatic and unforgettable.