Edinburgh born and raised, Frances Colquhoun was an artist in every sense of the word. She painted in oils, acrylic and water colour and exhibited and sold her work as a member of the Cambridge Drawing Society. She was a keen gardener and it was a joy to walk around a garden with her, either in her own small garden in Cambridge or in some of the most famous public gardens, as she had an eye for the structure and colour of plants and where they should go to complement one another. She loved horses and although she never rode or gambled she could pick a winner almost without fail by looking at the horses and how they behaved in the ring. The structure of the horse was something she understood.
In her twenties Frances devoted her talents to the international work of Moral Re-Armament, an international moral and spiritual movement, most especially in the theatre. She acted in and directed plays in 23 countries and at its summer conference in Caux in 1960 she helped produce 14 stage plays in one season. She had a beautiful speaking voice and mastered the art of listening on stage, the sign of all great stage artists. For many years she would visit London for a day at the theatre with a friend, seeing a matinee and an evening performance. She gained a wealth of experience watching some of the greatest actors of the English stage. Armed with a hairnet and curlers she was a brilliant solo performer in the style of Joyce Grenfell. On bus and train journeys her friends would sometimes think Frances was oblivious to them but she was listening to conversations which would reappear on stage later. She had perfect timing and her humour was never cruel.
Frances was particularly moved by those who had suffered behind the Iron Curtain and she befriended Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his wife Natasha, Irina Ratushinskaya and Vladimir Bukovsky when they were finally released or expelled from the Soviet Union. She was a quiet and loyal friend to them in the face of sometimes intrusive publicity. She initiated the idea of the prize winning film dramatisation of Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize Lecture, One Word of Truth.
Her husband Patrick was awarded an MBE in 2010 for his charity work with Medical Support, which he founded, in Romania. He could not have achieved what he did without the loyal and loving support of Frances. She hosted many Romanian medical staff in their Cambridge home and looked after them for weeks and months as they learnt the modern hospital practices and how to operate the donated equipment from the professionals at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. The initiative saved hundreds of lives.
Her friendships were her greatest talent. They were widespread and international and she never broke a confidence, so her friends loved and trusted her. Her phone calls always came at just the right time and were never too long.
Frances was born on 20 July 1938 in Edinburgh and adopted at birth by Archie and Dorothy Cameron. He was a senior executive with British Rail and Frances was the child they had longed for. She loved Scotland and her final holiday was spent here in early May under cloudless skies. She had been unwell for the last months and one week after returning home she was taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. She died there on 1 June under the care of the medical staff, for whom she had always had the greatest admiration.
She died in Cambridge on 1 June, aged 78. She leaves her husband Patrick and two daughters: Anna, married to Matthew Purver, is an international cook and runs cookery courses in London and Istria while Rhona has a senior job in the fashion industry. She loved and supported them selflessly. For an essentially private person, Frances leaves a very large gap in many lives.
Anne Wolrige Gordon
This article first appeared in The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 21 June, 2017