A second plaque has been added to an Aberdeen memorial bench to reunite a cherished dog with a neighbour who loved her dearly.
As part of our Place to Remember series, telling the stories of those named on benches across the north-east, we are revisiting the Victoria Park seat honouring Lara the Labrador.
For now, thanks to an additional epitaph, she will be forever remembered alongside Olympic swimmer Sheila Duthie who walked her.
Lara, who was loved
In 2013, following surgery for pancreatic cancer Lara, the blonde labrador, adopted by Louise and Sandy Robertson, passed away. However, before her death she had become part of the Duthie family too.
Shewan and Sheila Duthie, who lived a few doors from the Robertsons on Belvidere Crescent in Rosemount, stepped in to help their friends walk Lara, also known as Lara Bear – when mobility issues became a challenge for Louise.
Close to Westburn and Victoria parks, Lara became a regular visitor to the well-tended green spaces. Of particular interest to her was one specific spot.
“Whenever she got to this one bench, near the Loanhead Place entrance to Victoria Park, she came to expect a treat. It was a bit of a ritual,” said Louise.
Sheila and Lara
It was decided that this would be the perfect location for a memorial and with the help of the Duthies, “who loved Lara as much as they did” a plaque was placed on Lara’s bench.
Shewan Duthie said: “My wife Sheila just had this affinity with dogs. She loved them and they loved her in return.” None more so than Lara, who former journalist Sheila would write about – imagining Lara’s adventures through her own eyes.
Sadly, Sheila also passed away after surgery in March this year, leaving both households bereft of cherished companions.
A profound loss
Aged 82, Olympic swimmer, writer and educator Sheila Duthie, née Watt, suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
The modern studies teacher who specialised in the butterfly stroke and was part of Team GB for the 1960 Rome Olympics had been married to Shewan for almost 50 years.
He said at the time: “I realised very early into our marriage that she wasn’t Shewan Duthie’s wife, I was Sheila Watt’s husband. She was a remarkable woman; the woman I was married to for 46 years and loved for longer.
“From no qualifications she had three university degrees. She didn’t start swimming until the age of 10 and then became an Olympian. She was extraordinary and the loss of Sheila is profound.”
In honour of Sheila and Lara’s friendship Louise, Sandy and Shewan have now added a second plaque to the bench.
Above Lara Bear’s inscription is a new plate saying: “Sheila Duthie (Watt), Olympic swimmer (Rome 1960) – a good friend to Lara.”
Previously, both households had worried about Lara’s plaque been removed or damaged.
“It’s lost its lustre somewhat, and the inscription isn’t so clear any more,” said Shewan. “But what it represents is just as poignant as ever: our lovely Lara Bear.
And now it has been joined by a tribute to Lara’s companion, Sheila.
“It’s just lovely. What has always been a special place has become even more so,” said Shewan.
“It looks grand,” added Louise. “A wonderful tribute.”