A Toast To The Lassies
Ex Lord Cornet Millar Stoddart
One of the leading social events of the calendar in the Royal Burgh of Lanark is the Annual New Year Dinner held in the Cartland Bridge Hotel, Lanark.
Introduced in 2000 as a special Millennium Project, the dinner has proved to be an excellent event for Lanarkians to commence their New Year social activities.
Over the seven years it has been held, many excellent guest speakers have joined various well-known local individuals to provide excellent evenings of humour and interesting topics related to the history and current affairs of the Royal Burgh.
This year I was asked as former Chairman of the Lanimer Committee and ex Lord Cornet to propose the toast to the Lassies of Lanark. I tried to highlight the huge contribution made to our community by so many ladies who play, or have played, prominent roles in ensuring the well being of many organisations within the town.
In this article we look at some examples from the following excerpts of the speech.
I thought that I might give some thought first of all to music and the arts. I come from a family with musical interests and I have a great love for music. Unfortunately however, not as a musician although I did have the opportunity. My piano teacher and I didn't quite hit it off - no, she was more likely to hit my knuckles with her ruler. When she suggested that 1 choose between sport and piano lessons I have to admit that regrettably I chose football and other after school sports activities. I am sure however, that if I had had a piano teacher with the personality of Margaret Kealey I would have been very keen to practise my scales.
On a more serious note, my introduction to musical productions was the annual performance put on by St Mary's Amateur Operatic Society from 1957 to 1975. Mary Margaret Stewart, now Meldrum played the lead on many occasions. The Operatic Society enjoyed huge success over the 18 year period and it was sad when it ended.
Now we are fortunate again as Mary Margaret is back residing in the town and contributing greatly to the musical life of the town through her work with the St Mary's Choir. They have raised thousands of pounds for charity. At a recent performance I noticed that women in the choir considerably outnumbered men.
For many years another of the highlights of Lanark's cultural programme was the One Act Plays produced in the Parish Church hall for many years by Mrs Black - featuring many talented and well - known local actresses.
Another group, which has raised substantial amounts for charity over many years, is the Panto Club. Founded in 1962 with the well-known Scottish Entertainer, Jack Radcliffe as its first producer. Again this organisation would not have thrived had it not been for the hard work and commitment of so many women behind the scenes such as Phyl Whiteford, Doris Peacock, Jan Westworth, Celia Orr, Christine McPhail and the Romer and Reilly families, to name but a few. Nor should we forget all the wonderful panto dames we've had over the years. A special word of appreciation to Dame Frank Gunning who partnered Dame George Skillen in so many fabulous productions. As a community we should be grateful to the Choral Union, Lanark Amateur Musical Society, The Young Farmers and most recently, the youth group ICE for their contribution to our community life. I think we are all well aware that women ensure that all these organisations go from strength to strength. In addition we have excellent church choirs within the town with once again ladies outnumbering their male counterparts. On a personal note I must pay tribute to the St Nicholas Church Choir which I enjoy throughout the year.
I have to say that the Lanark area could be considered to be quite progressive, being one of the few constituencies to have had a female MP from 1959 until 1987, that being Dame Judith Hart.
The old Lanark Town Council, although mainly only in its latter years, had several female Councillors including the late Mrs Hutton, Dorothy Gray, Lil Johnstone along with Kathleen Grieve. The latter went on to become Chairman of the Royal Burgh of Lanark Community Council, a position held by yet another lady, Margaret Frood who recently received her MBE as did Carolyn Graham the previous year. Well done ladies!
Lanark had a lady Provost in Mrs Thorn in the sixties and this trend has continued with two lady Convenors of the Clydesdale District Council - the late May Hodgson and Councillor Eileen Logan. Other hard working local district councillors included the late Jan Westworth. Now we have Karen Gillon, our first ever MSP and our own South Lanarkshire Councillor and Depute Provost, Mary McNeill.
Another area in which ladies have a vital role to play is in education, particularly in Primary Schools. All the local primaries apart from Robert Owen have female Head Teachers and within our five primary schools 100% of the permanent teachers are ladies.
When I was at Lanark Primary we had a male Head Teacher, Mr Hope, and one other male teacher, Mr Whiteford. Interestingly, in my last five years at Primary School I think our class set a record having only two teachers in five years. Yes, they were ladies. For the record, Mrs Wells for 3 years and Mrs McCubbin for two.
For the former pupils of Lanark Grammar how many of you remember some of the characters among the female teaching staff from a few years back? What about Stonewall Jackson, Miss Frame, Big Mae, Wee Mae and Ma Hutton. Do they make teachers like them anymore?
Without doubt the most significant community project in Lanark is our Lanimer celebration. When I first joined the Lanimer Committee its members were all men. At last year's AGM. Fifty percent of the committee was women. At this meeting Sylvia Russell was appointed Chairman and ladies dominate in the Executive Committee with Lorraine Swan, Anne Gray, Beth Brown, Jennifer Johnstone, Lynne Leslie, Audrey Yuill, Karen Romer as convenors of major committees. In recent years Sylvia has put a lot of effort into renewing the boys' court costumes and the magnificent outfits we saw in 2005 are a testimony to her commitment.
I am a member of many committees throughout South Lanarkshire, Nationally and Internationally, and I can safely say that the Lanimer Committee set up with enthusiastic members is one of the best I am involved in.
Obviously the Lanimers is not just about the Lanimer Committee. I wonder how many women have actually put out Lanimer entries over the years. In my early years I can remember the ladies who first put me on Lanimer entries, Nettie Donald, Doris Peacock, Linda Nelson and my sister Esma. I would like to express the appreciation of the whole community to the ladies and their team of workers for their hard work and vision. Keep up the good work. What would Lanimers be without them?
As you all know my great love is sport, although I don't play as often as I would like. I am interested in sports development and appreciate very much, the work done By many volunteers in developing the talents of youngsters in our community.
On the theme of youngsters, many ladies give of their time freely to work with our Youth Organisations. In our community today it is not easy to have thriving organisations. However one of the big success stories recently has been the formation and development of The Girls Brigade.
In Carluke they have very healthy Scouts, Guide and Boys Brigade Movements. Great efforts are required in the local communities to ensure that these traditional youth organisations once again become strong and successful movements within our own community.
Although having taken the opportunity to emphasise female involvement within the community, I am also a great admirer of the voluntary contribution made by many of the male community, however, on this occasion the toast is "To the Ladies of Lanark"