Legacy will ensure nurse’s love of Borders lives on

Margeret Kerr
Margeret Kerr

THE woman whose name will grace a new palliative care unit in the region loved the Borders.

Margaret Kerr, pictured, left £600,000 towards the building of a hospice for the area when she died in 2008.

The £4.5million ward will be built at Borders General Hospital and a hard-working appeal team have added to Margaret’s legacy – about three-quarters of the cash needed has been raised and TheSouthern is backing the push to gather in the last £1million.

Margaret, a nurse, was born in Bellingham, Northumberland, in February 1925, but lived much of her life north of the border and considered herself a proud Borderer.

Her father, the Reverend Robert Kerr, was minister at Longformacus in Berwickshire and later at Kelso North and Smailholm.

Margaret and her younger sister, Berta, were sent to Esdaile School in Edinburgh which educated the daughters of Church of Scotland ministers. She had vivid memories of Friday night bus trips back to Smailholm in the depths of winter.

Life in the manse during The Depression was challenging, but the kindness and generosity of neighbours made a lasting impression on Margaret, giving her an affection for country folk.

She decided on a nursing career and volunteered as a Red Cross VAD attached to the Royal Navy in Caithness. She recalled VE Day – emptying ashtrays in a ward full of cheering sailors.

By 1950, Margaret was training at Chalmers Hospital in Edinburgh. She became a ward sister in the City Hospital where, during the 1970s, a serious hepatitis outbreak occurred. In his book, Dr James Gray, a consultant at the hospital, wrote: “Miss Margaret Kerr was in charge of Ward 16A where most of the patients with hepatitis were nursed. She bravely led a devoted team of nurses who coped in inadequate accommodation with this distressing and politically-sensitive outbreak. In 1973 Sister Kerr was justly recognised for her services during this difficult time by being awarded the MBE.”

Friends and colleagues from that time remember Margaret as a dedicated nurse, but also as a formidable ward sister. One former member of the City staff still recalls a glamorous young nurse being sent to wash her face before appearing on Margaret’s ward – heavy make-up was not allowed.

When her parents retired to West Linton, Margaret and Berta came to live at home while continuing to work in Edinburgh. Eventually, Margaret was needed to care for her mother and sister which was when she joined the local district nursing team and worked in the rural areas she loved.

Margaret looked after her sister until Berta died and then continued to live independently, with the help of friends, until her own death, peacefully at home in March 2008.

Margaret loved dogs, her garden, books and Borders rugby, and was a trusted friend and confidante, but nursing was her life and what mattered to her always was the care and comfort of those in need.

When Berta was terminally ill, Margaret was worried she would have to go to a hospice in Edinburgh when she felt her sister would prefer to spend her final days at home in the Borders. She told her friends of her wish that this region should have its own palliative care centre.

Margaret decided her money should go towards a hospice, as long as doctors and nurses in the Borders wanted it.

After her death, a charitable trust was set up in her name and memory, and her legacy has been the catalyst for creating the much-needed local facility. Trustees of Margaret’s estate feel sure the nurse would be delighted to see her dream come true for the people of the Borders and be honoured that the unit will be named in her memory.