Obituary: Barbara Quaile

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The Independent Culture
BARBARA QUAILE was, as Barbara Renton, the youngest Scottish hospital matron at 34, and went on to crown her career as matron of Scotland's leading hospital, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (RIE). Then, just three and a half years later, at the age of 53, she left to marry - and become a member of the Western Region Hospitals Board.

Renton was a typical matron. A trim, ramrod figure with steely eyes, she was in charge of all - maids and kitchen staff as well as nurses - and whenever she went on her rounds nurses trembled, for she noticed everything. A broken thermometer brought a lecture which so terrified a nurse who damaged a syringe that she went to Boots and spent a considerable portion of her monthly salary on a replacement so she did not have to report the loss.

Yet Renton introduced many welcome changes. More domestic help on wards, porters to take patients to theatre and X-rays, student nurses relieved of non-nursing duties. She was in favour of male nurses, thought senior staff should be allowed to live out and was a constant advocate of improvements in living conditions for nurses.

She was the second child of an Edinburgh solicitor, David Renton, and a mother who was a member of the Sandeman port family. She entered nurse training at the RIE in 1927. On qualifying she worked at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, and obtained the diploma of nursing at London University. She returned to Scotland as assistant matron at the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion at the RIE.

With the outbreak of the Second World War a 2,000-bed emergency hospital was created at the Bangour Village hospital, near Livingston, and Renton was appointed its matron. In 1945, she was appointed matron of the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow.

In the wider politics of her profession, Renton was a member of the General Nursing Council for Scotland, became secretary and then president of the Association of Scottish Hospital Matrons and served on the Scottish Board of the Royal College of Nursing. From 1944 to 1948 she served on the Boards Reconstruction Committee which reported to the parent committee in London looking at the post-war future of nursing.

In 1955 Renton returned to the RIE as Lady Superintendent. And then, on linen inventory day, came the surprise announcement - the Lady Superintendent had become engaged and was leaving to marry a Glasgow stockbroker, Kenneth Quaile. There were some errors in the linen count that day.

Barbara Quaile was a music enthusiast and a member of Milngavie Music Club. She painted in oils until she developed an allergy to the paints, when she turned to watercolours. An inspiring leader and a disciplinarian who expected perfection, she also had a charming and gracious manner.

Ida Barbara Helen Renton, nurse and matron: born Edinburgh 28 March 1906; OBE 1958; married 1958 Kenneth Quaile (died 1975); died Glasgow 15 February 1999.