Ethel Douglas

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Obituary: Ethel Douglas, Assistant Secretary of the Law Society and first female Elder of Greenside Parish Church in Edinburgh

Ethel Douglas B.L. Legal Administrator. Born: 30 June, 1916. Died: 5 June, 2020, aged 103

By Robin Mackenzie

Saturday, 27th June 2020

Ethel Douglas’s life can best be described in three parts, firstly her dedicated service to Greenside Parish Church spanning almost 90 years, secondly to her employment at the Law Society of Scotland and thirdly to her life within her family.

She was born in Edinburgh, being the third child of Agnes and James Douglas, who was a fishmonger. She grew up in McDonald Road and attended Broughton School, before graduating in law from the University of Edinburgh, being the first member of her family to attend university. She was one of only five women in a class of 50 students, a quite different gender balance from today’s 50:50 split. It is a tribute to her compassion and hard work that during the whole period of her university studies she was caring at home for an elderly mother.

Ethel and her family were regular attendees at Greenside Parish Church where she attended the Young Worshippers League, from age 13, and the Girl Guides, ultimately becoming Guide Captain. She became a Sunday School teacher at age 17, serving in that role for 25 years.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Ethel joined the Women’s Voluntary Service initially serving as a First Aid Worker and then as a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service for the remainder of the War.

Ethel, commenced work in GW Tait & Sons, solicitors, leaving in 1946 to join the Law Society of Scotland, as Assistant Secretary in charge of Legal Education. This involved her in making regular visits to schools and Scottish universities to meet with and assist students in the law faculties. She retired in 1976 after 30 years of service with the Law Society, on the occasion of which the President of the Society wrote: “Ethel’s work with the Law Society is well known. She has always been concerned with the examination and admission of entrants and her sympathy and understanding of their difficulties endeared her to all who came in touch with her. No one has been more ready to help and encourage so many entrants to the profession. The profession, and particularly the entrants who have qualified since the last war, owe her a deep debt of gratitude.”

In her letter of thanks which was published in the Law Society Journal she wrote “My work with the Law Society in the field of Legal Education has been a rich and rewarding experience, which has not been so much an occupation for me, but a privilege.”

Upon her retirement, several hundred letters were sent to the Law Society, from solicitors from all over Scotland and abroad, including one which read: “She can look back on her career with immense pride and in certain knowledge, shared by all who knew her work, that there is no name in the whole legal profession so well-known and more affectionately remembered by generations of students.”

Ethel was deeply religious and following in the footsteps of her father, who was a Church Elder, she was ordained as Greenside’s first lady Elder in 1970 and represented the Kirk Session as Presbytery Elder for 31 years until her 85th birthday. She also became a member of the Congregational Board in 1974, taking on the role of the Board’s link to St Columba’s Hospice for 27 years.

She was an active member of the Woman’s Guild, becoming President in 1970 and following her retirement, she joined the Guild of Friendship, serving for over 25 years. She continued to attend Church regularly until the age of 98, serving as an Elder for 50 years.

She remained unmarried, but enjoyed overseas travel to Europe and North America, with her sister, Evelyn, keeping diaries of her travels, which make wonderful reading for her family who survive her. She entered a care home in 2015, following a series of falls, and died peacefully a few weeks before her 104th birthday. She was much loved by her family and by all those who knew her.


Sources for this article include:

  • The Scotsman

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