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1926 - 2022

In the Highlands we have lost one of our greatest contributors in Elizabeth Sutherland who passed away on Wednesday. Born a Sutherland, she married John Marshall, an Episcopalian minister, as her father had been, with whom she shared many happy and busy years of marriage and mission. Sutherland lived on as her nom de plume.

I first met Betty when my great friend Ann Yule, of the Neil Gunn Memorial Trust, insisted that we attend the Black Isle Writers Group where she presided as mentor to what proved to be the largest group of aspirant authors I have ever witnessed. Her many friendships in Scotland’s writing arts meant we enjoyed the visits of guest authors to speak including one from Mills and Boon who outlined their fiction rules. If I remember right, the red headed nurse was forever intent on the brunette nurse’s doctor, but always thwarted by her own self-serving machinations…

More memorable still was a visit from Hugh Rae, who wrote as Jessica Stirling and had been first to identify and encourage Betty’s own writing talent. And there was the veterinary surgeon retired from his practice on Skye who nursed a deep resentment of Lilian Beckwith and her homespun highlanders, an early indication to me of the power to damage that even benign misrepresentation can have.

It was her own direct commentary on so much ‘prentice work’ (as she put it), that was the great attraction: the personal empathy behind the editorial scalpel. No wonder so many sat at her feet.

The books I best remember her for were The Seer of Kintail (1974), which I knew before I knew her, Five Euphemias (1999), which she told me about as she was writing, Lydia, her biography of Hugh Miller’s misunderstood and underestimated wife, and Highland Cathedral. She was prolific not only in her published work but in her curatorship of the Groam House Museum of Pictish Art in Rosemarkie, its many exhibitions and teaching exercises with young people.

Christian faith in its Episcopalian expression was central to her life. I remember well how she, at the door of her home in Rosemarkie after an interview (for Scottish Book Collector) told me, with some pride, of her descent from senior Episcopalian clerics, as well as being daughter and wife to two more. Often, the snippets after an interview’s close are the richest and best. In her writing and her person, she seemed to lean towards something just out of sight that others were barely aware of.

Vee Walker emailed me last night to say that Betty died peacefully in Raigmore Hospital, inverness, on Wednesday 14th September 2022, after ninety-six well lived years, tired but ready for her next adventure.

Elizabeth Sutherland was one of our great makars, mentors, and spirit guides. She will be missed by many, but her works will live on as will her children and grandchildren, the many writers whose minds she touched, the Groam House enthusiasts, and the community of storytellers she so enhanced.

Robert Davidson

Muir of Ord

16th September 2022