We are gathered here today to remember Kathy Bowles, a much loved person who lived a full and immensely rich life, a person who I had the privilege to know and love as wife, best friend and travelling companion through four decades of an amazing life.
Looking around this church today I can see people from so many aspects of her life. Sons, sisters and brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews, in-laws, friends from University days in Aberdeen, friends from our days in the Mearns, sailing friends, and of course the many friends she made here on Seil over the last ten years.
Family was very important to Kathy, who leaves behind three sisters and two brothers. She took great pride in her them all, and in her farming background in Aberdeenshire.
She was born in Invergelder Cottage on Balmoral Estate the 10h of April 1954, the youngest and wee-est of four sisters. Her sister Patricia sent me a copy of a school photo taken when she was 5, and Kathy is the only person whose feet are not touching the ground. Her heart was enormous though, and if ever good things came in small packages it was Kathy.
She was brought up to love the outdoors, biking 4 miles to school and back each day with her sisters, with lots of laughs on the way. Her taste for adventure developed young; she would cycle furiously no hands and swing from the tops of the small bendy birch trees, to the concern of her more cautious sisters.
Kathy was always very sociable; she played badminton, darts, chess and table tennis, attended the Red Cross on Friday night and as she blossomed into womanhood she shared clothes and make-up with her bigger sisters while getting ready to attend the Braemar dances on a Saturday night or the Balmoral dance on a Wednesday.
I met Kathy forty years ago in my last year at University, and was soon taken out to Ballater to meet her family. Her father was the farm manager on Balmoral Estate by this time, and I was initially in awe of him. However, I soon learned to understand and even spik the Doric a wee bit. The farmhouse at Dalliefour was a welcoming place, sitting round the old range while her Mum made oatcakes on the griddle and her Dad and I discussed cattle, or perhaps gardening.
We got married in Crathie Church in 1976, and I see some of our wedding guests here today. Early married life was hectic, with Kathy supporting me in a new teaching career. Soon Jeff, our first son, came along, then Adam.
Kathy was an excellent and loving mother. She taught her boys common sense then gave them the freedom to explore and adventure outside the family home, even though this did sometimes result in an expedition to A&E for a couple of stitches.
When the boys were still small I gave up teaching and Kathy and I set up a knitwear business together. Now we could both be at home, working together, for the whole day. This was to set a pattern of working together and playing together only interrupted for a few years by the need to earn some serious money to buy our first house.
The shock when Kathy was diagnosed with cancer twenty-six years ago was almost unbearable. Two young children, and I was away working on the rigs. Friends rallied round, and Kathy endured. She never once complained or railed against her lot, and although the treatment was long and arduous she was rewarded with complete remission – and I was rewarded with the incredible privilege of another glorious quarter century of her company.
Kathy raised her children in the village of Drumlithie in the Howe of the Mearns, where she was always the other kids’ favourite friends’ Mum because she was so welcoming and took the time to take an interest and talk to them. She left a lasting impression wherever she went, and I see some of Adam and Jeff’s friends from those happy days here today to pay tribute to their friend’s wonderful Mum.
In 1996 we bought the village shop and Post Office in Drumlithie, and Kathy set about turning a run-down one shelf wonder into a thriving village hub. The hours were long and the pay was terrible, but Kathy relished the challenge and was highly regarded by all her customers.
It was while running the shop that Kathy discovered her love of sailing when the husband of her shop assistant and good friend Nora took us out on their yacht. We began to talk about moving to the West Coast, a part of Scotland we loved and had often visited to go hillwalking. We talked about buying a wee cottage and a small boat.
We put the shop up for sale. The boys left home, Jeff to go to University and Adam to make his way in the world of work. She was so proud of them when Jeff got his degree and Adam went to work offshore, and was determined to be well enough to get to Adam and Sarah’s wedding in November last year – an event she carried off with her usual flair.
The day we sold the shop we still did not know whether our offer for the house on Seil had been accepted, but Kathy was not worried. She was never scared of the unknown and always looked forward to the next adventure.
We bought the house and our boat within three days of each other and embarked on what would tragically prove to be the last decade of our astounding journey through life together.
That wee boat took us to some wonderful places. To Stornoway, where, as everywhere, Kathy made some great new friends. Round Ireland, where our friends in Kilmore Quay took Kathy into their hearts.
Then the big one – we spent a year away, living on this tiny 27ft boat. I remember Kathy’s first night watch crossing the Bay of Biscay. We were in the middle of one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, with ships the size of blocks of flats moving through the darkness a mile or less away – and she loved it. Calm and confident on the helm, able to rustle up a hot meal in the worst weather and always eager and excited by the next landfall. She never let me refer to her as First Mate, but preferred to be known as the Second Skipper of Fairwinds.
Off Porto Santo on the way to Madeira we hit an unexpected storm. We took the sails down, lashed the helm, went below and put the washboards in. There was nothing more we could do except ride out the gale. The waves roared, the thunder crashed and the lightning flashed and I fretted and was awake most of the night. Kathy just stripped off her wet things, dried herself off, climbed into her sleeping bag and was soon snoring peacefully. She really was my anchor in the storms of life, real or emotional.
When we decided to stay in the Canaries instead of crossing the Atlantic it was Kathy who said ‘but we’ll go back via the Azores’ – not the easy way, but the exciting way, the scenic route, the way Kathy liked to live her life.
But there was always a very gentle side to Kathy, a nurturing side that showed in the way she brought up her children and looked after me. When her grandchildren came along she was so happy, and Abigail and Jack both loved their Granny very much. Her greatest regret was that she would not live to see them grow up, but they will always remember their Granny when they look for the brightest star in the night sky.
Her gentle, practical nature was also expressed in her lifelong love of gardening. Our wee house here on Seil didn’t really have a garden, so when we got back from our year away I asked friends if they could let us have a bit of land. I did the heavy work of fencing it and some of the digging, but it was Kathy who took a bit of virgin field and turned it into a beautiful, productive allotment.
Kathy loved that garden, and she loved all the new friends we made on Seil – old friends now, a decade later. Seil was where we planned to grow old together, and Seil is Kathy’s last resting place. I’ll keep the garden in her memory, but the most fertile garden is the one she made in the hearts of everyone she met.
Farewell, my lady of the islands.