Former fish filleter and clippie, Carrie Ritchie of Fraserburgh, New Pitsligo and Rosehearty, has died aged 82 in Wisconsin.
Wife of Sandy Ritchie, she moved to America in the early 1980s with her family for Sandy to pursue new opportunities in the fishing industry.
Caroline – known as Carrie – was born on May 15 1941. Daughter of Jean and Jimmy Johnstone, she was the middle of five children for the family who lived briefly after the war in a Nissen hut in Crimond, before moving to Low Street, New Pitsligo.
Carrie attended New Pitsligo School which she loved.
On leaving education Carrie found work as a filleter at Fromacs fish factory in Fraserburgh. She quickly became excellent at her job, filleting a haddock or cod in seconds, processing hundreds of fish every shift.
The work was hard but not without its benefits. It was there that she met “handsome young loon” Sandy Ritchie.
Falling in love
Through chatting at work and going to dances together in Mintlaw they became a couple. But it would be a couple of years before they’d take the next step when Carrie proposed to Sandy.
Though she popped the question, Sandy bought her engagement ring from H Samuel in Aberdeen for £20. They tied the knot on November 30 1962 at Fraserburgh registrar’s office before heading back to Carrie’s sister’s house for a meal. They honeymooned in an Edinburgh bed and breakfast, a gift from Sandy’s father.
Their first home was a two-room rented property at 18 North Street, Rosehearty. It had no electricity and only an outdoor, cold-water tap. They had to go next door to use the toilet in the washhouse, used paraffin lamps for light and cooked on a Calor Gas two-burner stove in the fireplace.
On the buses
While Sandy went to sea, Carrie worked as a clippie for Alexander Buses in the Broch then Simpson’s in Rosehearty, collecting fares and handing out tickets.
As soon as they could they rented a house with electricity in St Combs. With Sandy at sea Carrie only lasted a fortnight before moving in with her sister in Fraserburgh. The “forkie tails” – earwigs – were to blame.
After a few months with their in-laws, where they watched the news of President John Kennedy’s assassination, Sandy and Carrie bought their first house at 18 Loch Street, Rosehearty, for £1200.
Daughter Karen was born in 1968, Diane the year after, and son David in 1972.
Initially the young family had a happy rhythm. Carrie stayed home to raise the children and Sandy went fishing. Out every morning and back every evening, it worked for them. But by the mid 1960s the boat would leave on Sunday midnight not returning until Friday evening.
As the boats got bigger, the trips got longer. For Carrie this meant taking on more and more responsibility at home.
“Quietly competent and efficient” she kept things afloat while Sandy went to sea. She more than proved her worth as a “Stydie Ritchie” – the byname of Sandy’s family.
Though she was a hard worker and was able to fulfil mountainous tasks at home, her softer side was evident in her parenting.
“Mum was loving. A good mother for sure – but she was terrible at disciplining us bairns. ‘Wait ’til your dad gets home’ was a familiar cry,” said Diane. “She could never bear to think of us crying, so we never even lasted a day at playschool.”
By the late 1970s the UK’s decision to join the European Economic Community (now the EU) brought irreversible changes to the north-east’s fishing industry.
In 1980 Sandy and his partners sold their boat to a South African group. He was then offered an opportunity to fish in the United States.
Some serious conversations ensued and by November 28 1981 The Ritchies had packed up and moved to Maine.
Though it took her a while to find her place in the community Carrie took solace in her usual regime of hard work, knitting and baking.
She did some substitute teaching and then took a job as a teller at First Federal Savings Bank.
During her time in Maine she also knitted professionally, following patterns for children’s sweaters with sailboats and anchors. She later created her own patterns to sell at the Whale’s Rib gift shop on Cranberry Island, Maine.
When their children graduated and moved out, Sandy and Carrie moved to Seattle to be closer to the Alaskan fishing industry where Sandy was working. Carrie worked for Washington Mutual Bank, but really came into her own when she had time to volunteer at charity shops supporting senior centres.
There she enjoyed hunting for treasures for herself and her family, interacting with the public, and forming firm friendships.
Carrie and Sandy purchased a flat in Aberdeen in 2006 and later a house in Rosehearty so they could spend time each year in Scotland.
Throughout their lives, Carrie’s children always knew they could rely on their mum. She also flourished in her role as nana. If anyone needed her she would be on the next plane. Her grandchildren looked forward to regular treasure boxes arriving in the mail, filled with clothes, toys, and goodies from Nana’s thrift shop finds.
Despite being a highly superstitious person, Carrie never shied away from adventure. She and Sandy travelled often. Carrie also surprised everyone by joining daughter Karen on a tour through Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia staying in budget hotels, relishing the opportunity to see the sights and meet new people.
Carrie and Sandy moved from Seattle to Berlin, Massachusetts, to be near their son, and more recently in 2019 to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, to be near their daughter Karen.
On August 21, aged 82, Caroline Grant Johnstone Ritchie, died at home, surrounded by her family.
“Carrie was caring, generous, and loving and a steady influence in our family through many decades. She was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, and friend and will be dearly remembered and greatly missed,” said Sandy.
She is survived by her husband and children, and her grandchildren Hannah and David. Her death is a profound loss to her sisters Marjorie Laird and Dorothy Milne. She was predeceased by her parents, her sister Jean and her brother Jimmy.
You can view the family’s announcement here.