For more than four decades former physics expert Margaret Smith was a welcome ear in times of need for the people of Aberdeen and beyond.
For the retired Robert Gordon Institute of Technology lecturer devoted her life to serving others as part of the city’s branch of the Samaritans.
The charity has now paid tribute to one of their longest-serving members, who died in her 100th year.
Faith and physics
Born in January 1924 to Aberdeen shipbuilder William Smith and his wife Jeannie, Margaret was educated at Sacred Heart Convent, Queen’s Cross, then to university in Edinburgh (Craiglockhart campus). These faith-filled formative years would go on to shape the rest of her life.
She was founding member of the Aberdeen circle of the Newman Association – a national organisation whose members meet regularly to discuss and develop their understanding of the Christian faith. Yet she felt her “true vocation” should be in the field of teaching.
Though she excelled in scientific subjects – especially physics, she also taught domestic science for a time.
Later a lecturer at Robert Gordon Institute of Technology (RGIT), the precursor to Robert Gordon University, Margaret was born and raised in Aberdeen’s South Anderson Drive.
A member of St Mary’s RC Cathedral congregation for the majority of her life it was only in recent years, on moving from the house she grew up in to Northcote Lodge Care Home that she was no longer able to attend.
Over the years, as well as serving as a reader at mass she also led a dedicated team of volunteer women who provided hospitality after services.
The trajectory of Margaret’s life changed in 1978 when she saw an advert in a caravan window.
In a previous Press and Journal interview with Margaret she recalled that fortuitous day.
“I just spotted this poster [on a caravan] about this charity called the Samaritans and I wanted to find out more.
“I went along for the interview, they gave me my training and really I’ve never left.”
Every 10 seconds, Samaritans responds to a call for help, often with a volunteer like Margaret picking up the call.
Available day or night, for anyone who’s struggling to cope, who needs someone to listen without judgment or pressure, the charity also helps prevent and offers support concerning suicide.
From those initial enquiries to Samaritans, Margaret went on to give four decades to the charity, receiving the BEM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2015 for services to volunteering, aged 91.
‘Good times make up for the bad’
In the early days she would lecture at RGIT by day and take calls for Samaritans by night.
When the news of her royal honour became public she spoke of her dedication to the Dee Street charity.
“What I like about the Samaritans,” she said, “is that it’s completely confidential and we offer no advice but just listen.
“Sometimes people just need a place to vent and be listened to. Sometimes it can be distressing but other times are so worthwhile they make up for it.”
Much-loved team member
In 2019 Margaret retired from her charity work, becoming an honorary Samaritan.
Marie Cowie, branch director of Samaritans Aberdeen paid tribute to the almost 100-year-old.
“Margaret was a much-loved volunteer who was involved in all aspects of the branch; this included being chairperson, at one time or another. She was always willing to share her expertise and knowledge with everybody to ensure the continued success of the Aberdeen branch of Samaritans.
“Even into her late 80s she was responsible for the recruitment of new volunteers which was no mean task,” said Maria.
“When Margaret left the branch, several volunteers would regularly visit her at home. This just goes to show how loved she was.”
Humble and compassionate
Eileen Grant who got to know Margaret through their time together at the Newman Association added to the tributes.
“Not only was Margaret an excellent teacher and impressive public speaker, she had a gentler, compassionate side. I think really did make her a brilliant listener.”
Noting her humility and strong faith, Mrs Grant described the moment in church when the news of her British Empire Medal was announced.
“Margaret was never one to draw attention to herself. However, on that day I remember Bishop Hugh saying, ‘Now I know you’ll hate this Margaret…’ then he went on to tell the congregation the good news.
“She very graciously stood up and acknowledged it, but I’m not sure she would have ever spoken about it otherwise.”
A keen traveller until her late 90s, she enjoyed trips to Europe with her friend each year.
Margaret died aged 99 at Northcote Lodge. Her life was celebrated by friends and family in a service led by Father Mark Impson of Stonehaven.
He added: “Margaret was a lovely lady. Though she has no family left at all, she was surrounded by wonderful friends who all greatly valued her.”