MARY BEITH, Melness
Mary Beith, who died on Sunday, 13th May, was a well-known writer, lecturer and journalist who contributed frequently to the Northern Times as well as a host of other newspapers.
Born on May 22nd 1938 in Clapham, south London, she was only 18 months old when World WarTwo broke out and Mary went with her mother to live near her mother’s family in Clevedon, Somerset.
Her mother sadly died in 1943 (from cancer of the stomach exacerbated by wartime deprivations) and so Mary went to live with her grandmother in Leatherhead, Surrey. In 1946 her father returned from post-war service in Germany and re-married, and so Mary joined them in Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire.
After the war her father became a civil servant with the War Office and was posted to Jamaica in 1949. The family lived in Kingston, Jamaica, for two years, until her father had to be repatriated after becoming seriously ill with tuberculosis.
After leaving school, Mary spent time in Germany teaching English at Neu Ulm, in Bavaria and also worked for a short spell at the Drumnadrochit Hotel, Fort Augustus, on Loch Ness.
She went down to Poole on a journalism course and eventually joined the Bournemouth Times, where she met her husband Roger Scott, a fellow journalist. They married in 1961 and had three children, Alison, Andrew and Fiona.
When Roger moved to work in Manchester, Mary found a job as a feature writer at the Sunday People. Her time with the People was the period of her great successes as an award-winning campaigning investigative journalist, working in often difficult and even life-threatening situations.
She worked on a wide range of campaigning stories, including undercover exposes, as well as reporting the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Mary said that she was the only female reporter on the People prepared to cover stories in Belfast at the time. On one occasion, she was feared injured or dead when the Europa Hotel was bombed but she emerged unhurt, having slept through the bomb, to be greeted by bomb disposal officers and armed soldiers, whom she was surprised to find waiting for her as she descended the stairs.
Presumably on her last story in Belfast she interviewed the mother of a young boy who wanted to leave the IRA. She received a call from the People telling her to get on the next plane home but without being told why. When she returned to Manchester the People told her they had received a call from the IRA saying that she had been blacklisted by the IRA because of her contact with the boy’s family.
By this time the IRA had killed the boy and threatened (if not killed) members of the boy’s family. Mary was next on the IRA’s hit list. They told the People Mary was blacklisted and must leave Belfast and they warned the People not to publish the story.
In 1975 Mary was named Campaigning Journalist of the Year for her work on the People’s “Smoking Beagles” story.
However, also during the period in Manchester, Mary and Roger divorced.
Mary and the family moved to Scotland, to Garelochhead in Dunbartonshire, when Mary obtained work as a feature writer with the the Sunday Mail.
Around 1981 Mary moved to Melness with her daughter Fiona, who was still at school, and who later married a local crofter and settled in to become part of the local community.
Having been a cigarette smoker for most of her life, Mary was diagnosed in 2010 with an aggressive form of lung cancer. After a spirited battle against the cancer (undaunted by the 180-mile round trips to Inverness for hospital treatment), she died peacefully at home in Melness with her family beside her.