The family of much-loved Gourdon fish wife Mina Lownie have paid tribute to the remarkable 101-year-old.
A mainstay of Gourdon, along with her husband James for more than nine decades of her life, Mina was best known for helping run the family fish business until a move to Banff in their 90s.
Granddaughter Jennifer says it’s been hard not hearing her granny’s infectious laugh since her death last month, just days before her 102nd birthday.
Williamina McBay Ritchie – better known as Mina – was born on Christmas Eve 1921 in Gourdon, Kincardineshire.
Daughter of Edward and Jessie Ritchie, she had one older sister, Agnes, and a younger brother, John.
A pupil of Gourdon School she was a studious youngster, but not so that she didn’t have time for eight-year-old James Lownie.
The same age, he first set eyes on Mina when she was in the sidecar of her father’s motorcycle. Declaring, “aye, she’s the one for me,” it was only when he let Mina borrow his brand-new bike that her affection towards him was reciprocated.
Mina knew she had found a “nice boy” because she crashed his prized possession almost immediately, but James readily forgave her.
In a previous article James explained. He said: “I got a new bike. It cost my mum £4.50, and she paid it by instalments. It was hard times back then and Mina was the only one who got a shot – and she hit a wall. I didn’t say much – I was frightened to lose her. But, anyway, it wasn’t badly damaged.”
Long distance love
At the tender age of 14 the pair left school and began courting.
Finally, after four years, they tied the knot in a small ceremony at Aberdeen registrar’s office on October 13 1939.
The 18-year-old love birds only had one day together before James was sent to war.
Serving in the Royal Navy Reserves, he was part of the operation to successfully rescue 246 troops from the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940.
With only infrequent opportunities to come home home on leave over the next five years, their only son Edward was 20 months old before he met his father.
The family fish house
Returning home to Gourdon after the war, Mina and James were finally able to set about building a life together.
The couple – who were rarely apart for the rest of their lives – lived by the sea and purchased a small fish house. Buying fish from Gourdon pier each morning, James would return to the fish house where Mina and her sister Agnes would gut and prepare the fish to be sold.
As the years went on, they purchased vans and son Edward also worked in the family business.
James Lownie and Son operated successfully for half a century.
Dance partners for life
A member of Bervie Church and a regular visitor to the village Mission Hall, Mina loved to attend various community groups.
None quite matched up to her love of dance.
When they retired aged 82 the pair swapped fish filleting for the foxtrot.
She and James travelled to St Cyrus for dances, took up classes in Stonehaven and even perfected their ballroom and sequence dancing which they did twice weekly into their 90s.
On the occasion of their 75th wedding anniversary Mina reflected that they had a good life, only marked by the sadness of losing their son in 2007.
Coast to country
Having lived by the sea their whole lives Mina and James embarked on one more big adventure aged 92.
Packing up a lifetime of belongings – all on their own – the Lownies moved to a country cottage in Banff, next to granddaughter Jennifer and her family.
“The sea was in their blood so I’m not sure I ever thought they would make such a big move. Having them so close was just wonderful though,” said Jennifer.
“They spent a lot of time enjoying the countryside, looking out on nature. Even after all those years they still loved the company of one another.”
Sadly, James passed away four years ago at the age of 98. The couple were two months shy of their 80th wedding anniversary.
Even without her beloved James Mina found happiness in the final season of her life.
She received an iPad for her 100th birthday and was still spritely enough to be tending to her garden until autumn last year.
Content to be near her four great-grandsons, Jennifer and her husband Bruce, it was only when she fell and broke her wrist that plans to consider sheltered housing came to the fore.
“She was such a trooper. She attended all the hospital exercise classes and kept everyone’s spirits up, still smiling and keeping on.
“We really thought she would be okay, but a bit of a nasty virus just seemed to be one thing too much,” added Jennifer.
Mina passed away on December 21, three days before her 102nd birthday.
Later in the year she and James will be reunited when their ashes will be interred in the same plot, next to James’ parents at Gourdon.