Marjorie Linklater

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The Independent Online
At the height of a furious quarrel with her husband, Marjorie Linklater proclaimed the belief which animated most of her long life. "Why do you keep saying, change is bad?" she demanded. "All change is for the best - even when it's for the worst." Since their arguments were usually conducted with an operatic intensity of noise and emotions, the startled silence which followed this thrust indicated that she had won a skirmish if not the war.

On the whole, she remained faithful to her creed throughout her turbulent and ultimately consoling marriage to the writer Eric Linklater and, after his death, in promoting the arts and the environment in Orkney. Indeed, in this last period, when she helped found the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness (home of Margaret Gardner's remarkable collection of 20th-century art), assisted at the birth of the St Magnus Festival and initiated the Johnsmas Foy, a celebration of Orkney art, and the Folk Festival, now a magnet for traditional musicians from both sides of the North Sea, she helped stimulate enough change to satisfy even her zest for innovation.

Born in 1909, the youngest daughter of Ian MacIntyre, a flamboyant former rugby international and MP who became an Edinburgh solicitor, she was sparsely educated at St George's School, Edinburgh, and Downe House in Berkshire, before going to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) in London.

During a short West End career, she was courted by Douglas Jardine, captain of the England XI which won the Ashes during the "Bodyline" series in Australia. The affair was doomed from the moment she found herself briefly ignored at one of his parties. Turning to the man nearest her, who happened to be the legendary batsman C.B. Fry, she said brightly, "I do hope you're not another of these awful cricket bores."

Attractive and high-spirited, she returned to Edinburgh in 1930, and, taking up the first of innumerable causes, campaigned with Michael MacOwen for the establishment of a Scottish National Theatre. There she met Eric Linklater, 10 years her senior, and already a famous author. He admired her beauty, her taste in claret and above all her love of Orkney, his spiritual home, where her family used to take holidays. "Blast you," she wrote soon after they were engaged. "If you can't be happy with me, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

In 1933, they married and went to live in Orkney. As well as bringing up a family of four children, she took an enthusiastic part in community life, producing prize-winning dramas and playing her cello - an instrument later traded in for a donkey on the grounds that the latter made a more beautiful noise - in the local orchestra. After the Second World War, the family moved south to Ross-shire, where she became a county councillor, taking particular pride in getting a secondary school built in Plockton (home of the Macbeth television series), and securing the headmastership for the great Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean. Following a successful battle to have public toilets built at popular tourist spots, she also took a certain pleasure in being known as "Ross-shire's lavatory queen".

She and Eric had achieved a surprising harmony before his death in 1974, a quality which helped prompt her return to Orkney. In an interview, she declared "I have decided to give up sex and take up committees." Although this was not strictly true (a long-distance romance with someone in the South later led her to confess, "You can't imagine how exciting it is to travel to meet your lover on a Senior Citizens' Railcard"), her wit and style made her an extremely effective committee worker. As chairman of the Orkney Heritage Society, she persuaded the oil industry to fund a full-time archaeologist to supervise the islands' phenomenally rich prehistoric heritage, and when the nuclear industry proposed to mine uranium in Orkney, she led a long, successful "No Uranium" campaign against it. This was followed by other contests to stop Dounreay's reckless proposal to dump nuclear waste at sea.

When committees would not work, she took lone action and, aged nearly 80, confronted a farmer who was taking sand from a particularly beautiful beach. Enraged, he drove his digger at her, calling her a bugger and a whore. "Well, make up your mind," she snapped back. "I can't be both."

A fervent Scottish Nationalist, she fought vigorously for the party, distributing pamphlets well into her eighties and providing a local headquarters for her friend Winnie Ewing, the MEP for the Highlands and Islands. Eclectically, she also housed the Natural Law Party's candidate at the last election, and worked with Laura Grimond for the restoration of the eighth-century St Boniface chapel on Papa Westray. Her enthusiasm and sense of comedy attracted to her house in Kirkwall a steady stream of Orcadians dropping in for a blether, as well as Filipino singers, Chilean refugees and Icelandic poets.

Although weakened by cancer and a failing heart, she visited friends on the day she died. Her sudden death that evening, after hours of sunshine and laughter, could be seen as the final proof of her dictum - perhaps even this greatest and worst change might have been for the best.

Marjorie MacIntyre, campaigner: born Edinburgh 19 March 1909; member, Ross & Cromarty County Council, 1953-69; member, Scottish Arts Council 1957-63; Chairman, Orkney Heritage Society 1977-81; married 1933 Eric Linklater (died 1974; two sons, two daughters); died Kirkwall, Orkney 29 June 1997.

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