'PUTCHIE' Cameron-Head of Inverailort, otherwise known as 'Mrs CH', was much loved throughout the Highlands of Scotland for her essential Christian kindness and an ability to lead and persuade by example.
Tall and striking with her tartan suits and black choker, gentle voice and sense of fun, she was born of Irish parents in Glasgow in 1917. As a child aged two, she with her sister was rescued by the gardener when their house in Ireland was set on fire by the 'Black and Tans' - whom she referred to as 'The Boys'. She was a plump child and was nicknamed by her father 'Putchie' after the Michelin Tyre Man, a name that stayed with her for life.
Over the next 17 years, the family had 21 different homes in France, England, Scotland and Ireland - 'Mummy liked moving' - before deciding to go to Alderney in the Channel Islands for three weeks. They stayed for three years. She was educated at Stover School, near Newton Abbot, in Devon, where she became the school's first head girl. (Fifty years later she returned as its speech day's honoured guest.) After school she taught until the Second World War, when she became an organiser of Land Girls and then a Red Cross ambulance driver. In 1941 she met Francis Cameron-Head and in 1942 they married.
He was Laird of Lochailort, in Inverness-shire, whose castle had been requisitioned by the Army for the training of commandos under Colonel David Stirling of SAS fame. The writer Seton Gordon was best man. They went to live at Dunain Park outside Inverness until 1945, when they were able to return to their beloved Inverailort, where she made the house (which she often referred to as looking like a Victorian biscuit factory) into the heart of the local community.
Together with her husband she started in the same year the Glenfinnan Highland gathering; sadly she did not live to celebrate next year's 50th anniversary of the games or the 250th anniversary of the Raising of Prince Charlie's Standard.
The hospitality of Putchie Cameron Head's convener's tent at the games was legendary. As many as 400 during the day would sample 'hangman's blood', a dangerous cocktail of whisky, brandy, gin, cider and other ingredients.
Francis Cameron-Head died in 1957, leaving his young widow to run the large estate - a task she undertook with characteristic style. She introduced the first of the fabled Inverailort cat population, which at one point numbered up to 60. For more than a year she herself delivered the mail to Glenuig in a small launch until her vigorous lobbying caused the Mallaig-Kinlochmoidart road to be completed. When the Post Office closed its local office, she converted her morning room into a sub-branch, a role it still serves today. Her library became the public library and the ballroom a summer camp for children of mainly Catholic charities.
The house attracted a stream of guests from all backgrounds and nationalities. Whether you were seated 'above' or 'below the flowers' in her large dining-room, you were assured of an interesting and diverse mix. She was a major force in the political life of the Highlands, and many were grateful for her advice and influence. Her projects were legion; they included bringing fish farming to the Highlands, in Unilever's Marine Harvest company, which leased space in her loch; the presidency for 17 years of the Lochaber Handicapped Association; starting the Belford Hospital in Fort William where she later died; and generous support of the Catholic community. She was chairman of the Inverness County Council Social Services Committee for several years, and also Deputy Lieutenant of the county and a Justice of the Peace; for these and innumerable other services, she was appointed OBE in 1971. She typically remarked that it was no doubt because she was the only Irishwoman to run a Highland Games.
Putchie Cameron Head is remembered with affection by those who knew her for her characteristic sayings - 'a kindey person', 'a routie piggle', 'doodley dums' and 'clink clonk'. A light has gone out in the Highlands.
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