Remembering Lesley Diack

We were sad to hear of the passing of Lesley Diack who was well known to members of our Steering Committee. Here Debbi Simonton writes about the contribution Lesley made to history in Scotland.

Lesley Diack, a personal memoir

Many of us were shocked when Lesly failed to wake up on the morning of 22nd December 2020, a week short of her 65th birthday. I have chosen to write of Lesley as I knew her, as friend and colleague. There are good and thorough obituaries published on links below, which pick up her story as she joined Robert Gordon University in 2003.

We met virtually the first day I joined my new job at the Centre for Continuing Education in January 1991 when she welcomed me with a cheery smile. At the time she was a tutor for the evening class programme, a staunch member of the Aberdeen and North-East Family History Society and tutor in the History Department. Her welcome was characteristic of her, almost always seeing the positive side of things, looking for solutions and answers, not problems. She could also be incisive in her insights and was a researcher par excellence. As we began creating distance learning courses, Lesley took on the role of my assistant to develop a Scottish History module to be taught across the North of Scotland and Aberdeen, possibly the first in Scotland. Her love of and detailed knowledge of Scottish History gave all of us on the team a solid working basis and her guidance to me was invaluable. 

Over the years, we had multiple points of contact including the Mackie Conference 1996, editing some of her work on motherhood and poverty in eighteenth-century Aberdeen, workshops of the History Department and the Eighteenth-century Group, and conversations about her thesis on Women, health and charity: women in the poor relief systems in eighteenth-century Scotland and France (Aberdeen 1999), comparing Aberdeen and Montpelier, a city she knew well from frequent holidays. She continued her work with Family History with journal reviewing and the 1999 North East Roots: A Guide to Sources. Following her PhD, she pursued her interest in social and medical history and also developed her teaching and learning skills on an EU project I ran on online distance learning (@duline). She spent three years as a research fellow on a Wellcome Trust project on Food Poisoning, Policy and Politics, Corned Beef and Typhoid in Britain in the 1960s, where her local history knowledge was invaluable. In the course of the project and its extension, she co-authored oral presentations and contributed to published papers with David Smith. At the same time, she contributed to the massive volume on Aberdeen Before 1800; A New History(2002) on life and health in the two towns (New and Old Aberdeen). 

Through our shared interest in women in eighteenth-century Aberdeen and over multiple cups of tea and convivial dinners, as the years progressed a warm friendship grew which endured after we both left Aberdeen University at almost the same time. Her interest in maternity, female health and welfare led her to take a post at Robert Gordon’s University as a researcher, which led to a new career in medical health and distance learning. This story and some other personal remembrances, including comments from her beloved Bill, are taken up in published memorials which can be found on the web:

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