It would be hard to find a person in Inverurie who didn’t know – or love – Wilma McLennan.
The 68-year-old former Strathburn Primary dinner lady worked in Garioch Fish Bar for 27 years.
Managing a team and selling more than 500,000 fish suppers the ‘proud Inverurie quine’ was beloved by friends and family alike.
We look back on town stalwart, ‘Wee Wilma’, following her death to cancer earlier this month.
An Inverurie quine
Born in Ellon on Hogmanay, 1952, to Annie and William Kelman, Wilma was one of four.
Brought up in Kellands Avenue, Inverurie, she was the younger sister of Linda and elder sibling of Pamela and William.
Dad, William was an HGV driver and Annie worked as a waitress at the Banks of Ury when she wasn’t caring for her four children.
Tragically, William joined the army and was killed in a car accident in Germany aged just 21.
The devastating loss impacted the whole family and Wilma was no exception.
She had recently seen her brother and so news of his untimely death hit her hard.
Work and play
Wilma attended Market Place Primary, then attended Inverurie Academy, where she was an enthusiastic cross country runner.
After school she quickly entered working life alongside her sister Pamela at Inverurie Papermill.
While she was more recently known for low-key clothing, opting for hoodies and comfortable trousers, teenage Wilma wasn’t so reserved.
With a love of mini skirts and trendy hairstyles she was a regular at Town Hall dances and even the more traditional Railway Hall dance nights.
Wilma married in 1974, and went on to have her three boys, Alexander, Melvin and William known as Zed, Melv and Wull.
Living her ‘true calling’, she brought them up in the house next door to her dad in Selby Drive.
Her first marriage came to an end in 1993 but the happiness of her children was always her top priority. It would take a year but she always managed to save for a caravan holiday at Hopeman or Nairn.
In later years her beloved dogs, Susie and Buster would also become very much part of the family.
Love at the Legion
Despite heartbreak, Wilma went on to find the love of her life at the British Legion in the form of barman Peter Learmonth.
A favourite spot of Wilma’s for dancing and bingo, it was love at first sight.
The couple went on to spend 28 years together – most of which in their George Square home.
Something to eat?
Wilma lived with an ever-open door, taking great joy in being able to welcome – and feed- her growing brood of six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, family and friends.
Chloe, Tyler, Kain, Caitlyn, Kai and Rio and great-grandchildren Marcus and baby Theo, and loved being with their granny joking that she’d constantly ask, ‘do you want something to eat?’ which, regardless of the answer, would be followed by a bacon sandwich.
Food would also play an important part in her working life.
Half a million fish suppers
After some years working as a dinner lady in Strathburn Primary School, she went on to work for popular chip shop, the Garioch Fish Bar.
Peter said: “It started as her helping out her son’s girlfriend who worked there, and it ended with her being manageress. She was there before the current owner, Murray, and he’s been there 24 years.”
Murray Morrison, owner of the Fish Bar, described Wilma as incredibly loyal.
“There’s a huge hole left behind by Wilma. I took on the place 24 years ago and she was there every single day since. She never had a single sick day and was so loyal. She was a great friend to my parents, and to me, and was a brilliant manager: firm but fair.
“She sold 500 fish suppers a week for me, for nearly 25 years – so everybody knew her and everybody loved her. She’s a huge loss.”
Bingo travel joy
Holidays abroad became an important part of Wilma’s life after a cash windfall gave opportunity to travel.
“She won the full house at Aberdeen bingo in 1995 taking home £500, which was a lot of money in those days. We decided to spend it on a holiday to Kos in Greece. Since then we’ve travelled the world,” Peter said.
The couple’s holidays included America, the Panama Canal, the Pyramids of Giza, Jerusalem and the Greek Islands – an even a camel ride in Tunisia.
Not that foreign food was included in why she liked to travel.
Although Wilma took the opportunity to leave behind her trademark ‘trackies’ to dress up on holiday she would still seek out ‘good honest food’ usually in the form of a burger van or kebab shop.
A message left behind from Wilma
Also a music fan, Wilma especially loved songs from the musical, The Greatest Showman.
“Never Enough,” from the movie, was played at her funeral.
But one song is bringing Peter, Linda and the boys great comfort since her sudden passing.
Peter explained: “Wilma got worse really quickly. It was only nine weeks from finding out that her cancer had metastasized to her not being able to speak or do much anymore.
“When we went to find songs on her phone afterwards there was only one there. It wasn’t on her history – we don’t know how it got there but I know we were meant to find it. It’s called ‘You are the reason’.”
The family believe the lyrics of the Calum Scott and Leona Lewis song echo Wilma’s heart for her family and friends.
“I’d climb every mountain and swim every ocean – just to be with you. And fix what I’ve broken, Oh, ’cause I need you to see that you are the reason.”
Her sister Linda Hadland added: “We miss her terribly. It’s all been such a shock. I feel like we were meant to find that song. She wasn’t ready to leave us either.”
In light of their mum’s death to cancer, Wilma’s sons are raising funds for Macmillan. You can support them here.