Alumni Services

Margaret Dobie

1950s graduate Margaret Dobie OBE reflects on the happiest days of her life and how the introduction of the Children's Hearings System inspired her voluntary work in social care and the justice system.

Name Margaret Dobie OBE
Degree Course Ordinary MA, Diploma in Social Studies
Year of Graduation 1950, 1951

Your time at the University

Black and white photo of Margaret Dobie.
Margaret Dobie OBE on her MA graduation day in 1950.

The happiest days of my life!

My school days at Dumfries Academy were also very happy years, I did not apply myself very much to academic work as I loved gymnastics and sport and had decided from an early age that I would follow my sister's career as a PT teacher. However, a few weeks at PT college was enough to make me realise I had made a terrible mistake. I knew one must go to university. Thanks to the assistance and encouragement of Johnnie Gall, career master at the Academy, I applied and was accepted by Edinburgh University. I was apprehensive at first about my academic ability, I had not prepared for university when at school, but I was reassured when my first essay in British History was returned with a B+. I never looked back after that and went on to gain confidence and pleasure from study, receiving in my third year the medals for Political Economy and Social Anthropology. I have continued all my life to enjoy studying.

I graduated in 1950 with an Ordinary MA and followed that with a Diploma in Social Studies in 1951 with the intention of becoming a medical social worker or hospital almoner as we were known in those days. The variety of subjects we studied for an Ordinary MA gave a wonderfully wide base of learning about the human situation, more specific learning and practical experience for my career in social work came from the Diploma and the subsequent year at the Institute of Almoners in London.

Professor John McMurray's lectures on Moral Philosophy were without doubt the most influential classes for me and I have met many people over the years who felt the same. Brought up a Christian, he lost his faith after being in the trenches in World War One, but reverted back to religion later in life and became an eminent Quaker. Sir Alexander Gray, Professor of Political Economy, was the other outstanding figure. As well as being an eminent economist, he was a distinguished poet, specialising in translating German and Scottish poetry. He was also a very entertaining lecturer; his class was one of the biggest in the Department and was sometimes gate crashed by students who were not studying economics. A real tribute, as the class was at 9am!

Your experiences since leaving the University

I started my career as Assistant Almoner at the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary. We were at the birth of the National Health Service (NHS) and we were making history. I left to get married after only six months and gave up my job, as was expected in those days, devoting my intellectually enriched life to domesticity and motherhood.

I like to think my family benefitted from my study of the humanities but I was impatient to make more use of my learning and if possible to use it to do some good, serve my fellow-beings. I had, after all, been immensely privileged. A golden opportunity came, giving me wider scope to use what I had learned and to learn a great deal more. In 1964 the Kilbrandon Report was published, recommending a basic alteration in the way children who came in contact with the law were treated. The sole criterion for decisions was to be "the best interests of the child", whether the child had offended or been offended against by neglect or abuse. A bill was passed in Parliament and the 1968 Scotland Act was passed and the Children's Hearings System was introduced in 1970.

​​​​​​​I applied as a volunteer to be a panel member at the earliest opportunity and this voluntary work became more or less the rest of my career.

Margaret Dobie OBEFormer Chairman of the Scottish Children's Panel Advisory Committee

It was a very radical change, a very wise piece of legislation with a philosophy underlying it which England did not and still has not adopted. I applied as a volunteer to be a panel member at the earliest opportunity and this voluntary work became more or less the rest of my career. I was appointed to the chair of the local panel and from there rose in the ranks of the hearings system to be finally Chairman of the Scottish Children's Panel Advisory Committee. As if the privilege of doing this work which I loved was not enough, in 1989 I was honoured with an OBE. The honour was, I think, largely recognition of the work of the hundreds of volunteers who manned this new system and I happened to be at the top of the organisation at that time. Incidentally the fact that the 'judges' in the hearing system are volunteers makes it the least costly system of juvenile justice in the world as well as the most humane.

This work took me into a new field of social care and also of the law. I learned a great deal about the justice system in Scotland through membership of SASD, The Scottish Association for the Study of Delinquency, (now SASO, Scottish Association for the Study of Offending). After serving as Secretary then Vice-Chairman I became an Honorary President. Other organisations in which I was fortunate enough to serve were the Visiting Committee of Dumfries Prison, then Polmont Young Offenders. Most of my work in this field was challenging and often saddening, but a most interesting and enjoyable appointment came along in 1987 when I was asked to serve on the BBC's Broadcasting Council for Scotland. It was often demanding but a fascinating internal view of the BBC and the colourful world of the media.

The University buildings have changed a great deal. One of the unusual features in the late forties, and early sixties was the enormous number of ex-service men and women. Most classes had over three hundred students and were held in the Pollock Hall in Potters Row, a one-time church which was knocked down when the major alterations to the campus were made.

Some of the new buildings are not very beautiful and George Square is not improved, but the historic Old Quad is still the splendid heart of the University, the McEwan Hall is still where graduations take place, the Men's Union [Teviot Row House], where we danced away many a Saturday night, looks unchanged.

Alumni wisdom

Don't work too hard; work can distract you from the real opportunities of your years at university.

Remember that you are not there just to learn a trade, important as that may be, it is the place and time when you can begin to see what sort of life you want to live. In the not unlikely chance that you fall in love, this is even more important.

Related links

The Kilbrandon Report at the Scottish Government website