In Memory of Dorothy Anne (Doranne) Willis

 

 1922 - 2005

 

The island was very shocked by the sudden death of Doranne Willis on 31 December 2005. On a chill early January afternoon with rain threatening, the churchyard of Lismore Parish Church was packed to hear Mary MacDougall and Chris Small remembering Doranne's life and paying tributes to her immense love for and contributions to every aspect of island life.

 

These are Mary MacDougall's words: 

 

I first remember Doranne Willis as my teacher when Robbie (Smith) and I came to stay with our grandparents in Port Ramsay due to our wee sister’s illness. We were welcomed in to the group and looked after by Doranne and the older pupils. In a time when education was something that took place within four walls and out of textbooks and when children were seen and not heard, Doranne took learning into the environment and taught a love of nature and a pride in the work of the island. She valued and nurtured whatever talent great or small that every child had and celebrated all successes. She made sure all children had the opportunity to learn to swim firstly in the sea at Salen and later in the Swimming Pool in Oban, marching them up from the boat to the pool and down again.

 

Later when I came to work with Doranne words such as “average, satisfactory, and acceptable” were never used, everything was “super, jolly good, or great. She used paired reading and team teaching long before they were popular or fashionable. No pupil ever left Lismore School without being able to read and write.

 

On retirement Doranne continued to take a lively interest in the talents of Lismore pupils and followed their successes at the Local and National Mods. She never missed a Mod and was always there to support them. She was particularly proud of Murray,Christopher, Eilidh and Kara.

 

A teacher touches so many lives Doranne Willis must have touched hundreds of lives throughout her teaching career and as the poem says will be remembered in a multitude of different ways for many, many years to come.

 

 

 

Grieve not

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the softly falling snow.

I am the gentle showers of rain.

I am the fields of ripening grain.

I am the morning hush.

I am the graceful rush

of beautiful birds in circling flight.

I am the star shine of the night.

I am the flowers that boom.

I am in a quiet room.

I am the birds that sing.

I am in each lovely thing.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. I did not die.

 

Mary Frye

 

 

These are Christopher Small's words: 

 

 

Friends, we have come here to say Goodbye to Doranne – to say goodbye but also, and chiefly, to think about her life, her long life, the greater part of which was spent on Lismore and among us all – as teacher first and foremost perhaps but not least as friend, neighbour, sharer to the full of everything that goes to make up all our lives as a community. And for Bill, Caroline, Frances, Mark and their families, for Murray, Eilidh, Kara, Christopher something much more as wife, mother, grandmother which is difficult to speak about but which we all express in different ways as best we can.

 

Doranne, Dorothy Anne but always Doranne to us, was as closely interwoven in the fabric of Lismore as anyone could be, but when she first came here, nearly half a century ago, she was of course an incomer, which only goes to show how misleading such a description can be. Doranne was in fact a well-travelled person, starting early – she had crossed the Atlantic several times, I’m not sure how many, before she was five years old. She was born in the U.S., in Massachusetts, where her father, George Brown, himself a Perthshire man, was teaching philosophy at Amherst College and elsewhere. When Doranne was only a little girl (I mean in years) these academic moves brought George to the Moral Philosophy department of Glasgow University, and there Doranne grew up. (One person here today shared her schooldays with her). Then came the war, breaking into the lives of so many; Doranne’s own studies at Glasgow University were truncated and she joined the FANYs – the front-line First Aid Yeomanry of the first world war which seemed exactly to suit her, since it didn’t matter how tall or short their members were if they were great of heart. She served in India and Ceylon, and had I think some quite adventurous times. After the war she came to London to complete her studies at Birkbeck College and then began her teaching career at a small but independently-minded school in North London. She also met Bill Willis, the event which (I hope it’s not impertinent to say) at the same time changed and determined both their lives.

 

They married in Glasgow just short of fifty years ago, and spent their honeymoon on Lismore, at Park, then in the most rudimentary state of repair after some years of disuse. That it was a true honeymoon was I think a perfect demonstration of the powers of human affection over mere humdrum convenience; it was also, maybe the decisive influence in their conviction that Lismore was the place they wanted to make their home and live and work.

 

Application, persistence and chance combined, a year later – 1958 – to install Doranne as the teacher of what had recently become, at Baligarve, the only Lismore school. There were I believe only two pupils at the time. Doranne and Bill moved in to the old schoolhouse and set to work. I think they did not stop, in their different ways, from that day almost to this. Caroline, Frances and Mark were born and spent their early childhood at Baligarve; later, as the school grew and the new premises were built at Achnacroish they all moved into the new but rather small schoolhouse with the sea, to Bill’s special delight, close at hand. There they were joined after her father’s death by Doranne’s mother Dolly, whom many here will remember in her great and voluble old age.

 

The rest, as they say, is history, the details of which will be better known to those who were pupils than to me. Two generations of children were taught by Doranne and her assistants; how many they were altogether, before her eventual retirement in 1987, others will be better able to work out than I. But the total has been something very much more than counting heads. It was a transmission to young people by no means merely of “book-learning” – though Doranne, a lifelong devourer of books, had a high regard for what could be learned from them – but of all she had to give, of her own gifts and enthusiasms, a love of adventure, of the difference of persons and of their individual value, of natural beauty, or shall we just say, of life itself; and of the tolerance and patience which the young don’t often find so easy, till they see someone exercising these qualities herself.

 

These were, I believe, Doranne’s gifts to Lismore, bestowed without stint over all her years here. And in return, I believe, Lismore gave her, in the midst of her own family, growing up with their own island roots, an immense happiness. You can’t quantify happiness or pin it down to this or that circumstance. You can if you like call it good fortune, when fortune means something wholly different than what’s counted in banks. Doranne was in the best, the most beautiful sense, a lucky person. She was lucky in Bill, as Bill was lucky in her, and as her children are lucky. She was lucky to find and make a life on Lismore, and Lismore was lucky to have her.

 

5 January 2006

 

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