|21 Jul 2020|
Words kindly provided by Andrew Thorburn, Nancy’s son
Mother never talked much about her time at St Swithun’s but we do remember her excitement one day when we went onto the school website and she recognised the buildings. Sadly she became too ill to pay one last visit to the school but we thought you might like to know a little bit about her life after she left...
She returned to Buenos Aires where she had been brought up to join her two sisters and parents and applied to join the British Embassy which involved sitting some sort of exam. We have in her papers the letter confirming that she had passed the exam and was employed as a secretary in the British Embassy. Well into her seventies she could still bash out letters on the ancient manual typewriter that she kept with her over the years.
When the war broke out in 1939, she moved to the Embassy coding department where she sent intelligence back to the UK from a network of data gatherers and spies around the region. Argentina was a strategic location for both the Germans and the Allies and one of the dashing ‘spies’ was our father, David Thorburn who represented his Scottish family business selling cloth lengths to local tailors.
After the war ended, Argentina elected Juan Peron as President who brought with him his second wife the famous or infamous ‘Evita’. Popular with the people, he was pretty heavy handed with business and in 1951 Nancy and David returned to the Scottish borders, near Peebles, with their first son in tow. Three more children followed over the years. Post-war Scotland was pretty bleak and not just weather-wise. Many supplies were still being rationed and we remember clearly Nancy’s delight when sugar rationing was finally lifted in 1955 and she could tear up her card.
In the years to follow, Nancy got involved in a range of different ventures, usually together with her great friend Elizabeth Rivers-Bulkeley who lived nearby and who was one of the first women to join the London Stock Exchange as a full member in 1973. Nancy bred miniature poodles and then moved onto pigs which she used to cart off to market in a trailer attached to her baby Austen (the mini of its day).
David died young and Nancy became a widow aged only 52. With her children scattered around the globe the big house where the family was brought up was sold and she moved to a nearby cottage. Understanding she needed to do something to keep her busy, in 1973 she ran for the post of local district councillor in the Tweedale district. She won the first election and then held her seat unopposed until she retired in 1993. Shortly after she was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Peeblesshire while also serving as board member of the National Art Fund Collection, a charity which raised money to keep famous works of art in the UK.
All this time she was operating as a onewoman tourism promotion agency for the Scottish Borders. One day she met some Americans staying with a friend and was asked to show them some interesting places. She took them round some of the stately homes nearby and her friends were so pleased she carried on doing it. Visiting some of the great houses belonging to the Scottish aristocracy she created a deck of 80 slides on ‘great houses of the Scottish borders’. With her American friend as her ‘agent’ she and her slide carousel travelled all over the US speaking to garden clubs about these great houses. This was a lifelong passion that enabled herto travel and meet many interesting people which she enjoyed immensely.
She was a classy lady, impeccably mannered and resilient. She dealt with life on her own terms… partly a tribute no doubt to the time she spent at St Swithun’s.