In more than 90 years Angela Oatridge and a quiet life were never well acquainted. Aberdeen’s first female driving instructor trailblazed her way across the world, eventually bringing enduring colour to Moray by pioneering the award-winning Burghead in Bloom.
Swept off her feet
Angela Mary Harbottle was born in Somerset on June 2 1933. Her father John was brought up in Chile, where his father emigrated to work on the railways. Her mother was the daughter of a Scottish tailor in Rochdale. Hard work and entrepreneurship was in Angela’s blood.
One of five, she was grammar school educated in Weston-super-Mare before becoming a telephonist.
In 1954 Angela’s brother came home on leave from the RAF. With him was best friend Derek Oatridge. After a whirlwind romance Angela and Derek married on May 1 that year.
Their son Nicholas was born in September 1955.
Down the Suez to Sri Lanka
Derek was posted to RAF Katunayake, Sri Lanka in 1956. Angela and Nicholas followed on to, sailing on the MV Devonshire.
“Mum told me she was on the last ship to through the Suez Canal before it was closed in the Suez crisis. I was just a few months on the voyage to what was then called Ceylon,” said Nicholas.
Angela, described as “very outgoing” and an “excellent hostess”, was at the heart of the expatriate community and loved to entertain. Derek regularly invited people to their home; on one occasion an entire film crew.
“The director suggested my father could put his judo skills to use by giving him a part in a movie. In the end my dad appeared twice. The film was the David Lean classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
The couple’s daughter Julie was born in Sri Lanka in 1958 followed by son Darryl in 1964, by which point they were in Corsham, England.
Their next overseas posting was to Malaysia in 1966. Stationed at RAAF Butterworth but living in Penang, the family thrived in their new setting. When they returned to the UK for a time, both Angela and Derek longed for one more spell overseas.
When the news came that their new location would be Aberdeen, Angela burst into tears. They moved to Newtonhill in 1969 but her disappointment was short lived. She soon grew to love the north-east and came to consider it a place where she spent many of her happiest years.
‘Women are generally better than men’
In Aberdeen, Derek worked as an RAF recruiter, travelling around the north-east, however, he wasn’t the only one spending time behind the wheel of a car.
Angela revived the Ladies School of Driving which she had started in Corsham. Believed to be one of, if not the first female driving instructor in the country, she made headlines by exerting her belief that “women are generally better than men at most things”. Further controversy followed when she claimed Aberdeen drivers were the worst in the world.
“My mum was fiercely independent and single minded. She was irked by the growing number of female friends coming home in tears from driving lessons, not because of ability but by the treatment given by male instructors,” said Nicholas.
The Aberdeen driving school began in 1969 and continued until the family left the north-east in 1973. After a brief stay at RAF Biggin Hill, they were posted to RAF Bruggen, Germany
Bruggen to Burghead
For the next two decades Angela and Derek lived and worked in Germany.
When Angela wasn’t heavily involved in the Guiding movement she was once again a driving instructor while studying for her Open University BA arts degree.
In 1993 when they retired the couple returned to Scotland. Daughter Julie married a serviceman from Lossiemouth so they relocated to Firth View in Burghead.
Just eight years into retirement Derek passed away following pancreatic cancer. Angela channelled her sense of loss into the arts. She became a prolific writer of poetry, had three “learning to drive” books published, and was the local – and best researched – correspondent for The Northern Scot.
In 1997 she received a further BSc (hons) from the Open University.
She was also the catalyst for the award-winning Burghead in Bloom entry to the annual Scotland in Bloom competition.
“Mum was up in arms when a Press and Journal staffer referred to her beloved Burghead as a dowdy town,” said Nicholas. “So in 1996 she set about making it a contender for awards. She created an annual floral market and organised the planting of oak trees. It gave her a lot of satisfaction years later to see flowers all over Burghead.”
Angela volunteered for numerous organisations. A regular at Dr Gray’s, Meals on Wheels and helping the armed forces charity SSAFA, one of her favourite organisations was Burghead Heritage Group where she was secretary and a speaker.Union
For Angela, retirement was something to be enjoyed. She travelled as much as she could visiting the Amazon, touring on the Orient Express and visiting family across the globe. She carried on her and Derek’s love of caravanning into her 80s.
For her 90th birthday she danced at a family party, then went back to her roots inviting family and friends to a Devonshire cream tea. A picture of health and always impeccably turned out, she had beaten cancer twice and survived a heart by-pass.
“Everyone said she was indestructible,” Nicholas said. “More recently, however, she contracted an infection from which she couldn’t recover.
“Under the care of district nurses she was able to come home and on September 1 she peacefully passed away surrounded by loved ones, in front of her favourite view of the Moray Firth.”
An inspiration to many
“To the very end, and for all of her life, my mother was an inspiration. She was a feminist in a male-centric world long before the term was widely used. She made people feel good about themselves. Everyone who knew her will miss her,” added Nicholas.
Angela is survived by her three children, their spouses, and seven grandchildren.