Remembering Helen Watt

Helen WattMany of us have expressed the opinion that 2016 can just do one. The deaths early in the year of national treasures, the heroes we’d grown up with,  like David Bowie and Alan Rickman shocked us. In Scotland, that sense of loss has intensified and come closer to home as we learned of the passing on Monday of one of our most popular and stalwart members, Helen Watt.

Helen was convener of the Scottish Party’s Conference Committee between 2003 and 2007. She also chaired and held most of the offices of Scottish Women Liberal Democrats.  She stood for Parliament, both Holyrood and Westminster, many times. A member in East Dunbartonshire, she was a critical part of Jo Swinson’s campaign team from the very beginning and helped to elect the area’s councillors.

I served as an office bearer with her and always admired  and learned from her  practicality and common sense as I have neither.

Helen’s capacity for work was incredible. As well as full-on Liberal Democrat commitments, her retirement was taken up with other voluntary organisations such as Meals on Wheels. Everything she did was accomplished with energy, warmth and humour. The thought of not hearing that infectious laugh again makes me very sad. The last thing she would want, though, is sadness. Her instructions for her memorial events included positivity and red wine. I have shared many a bottle with her over the years, often well into the early hours. I have fond memories of one first thing Sunday Conference debate that she was chairing and I was aiding where we were a little ashen-faced and sleep-deprived but we got through it unscathed. 

She knew an army marched on its stomach. When you came back, freezing and bedraggled, from delivering leaflets for Jo, she’d be there with tea and a massive spread. You’d be replete and she’d have waved you off with a smile with another massive bundle of leaflets before you knew it.  It’s no surprise that my fondest memories of her are associated with food and wine.

I was campaign manager for the Livingston by-election in 2005, which ended up being renowned for its catering because of Helen. She brought all sorts of fancy rolls, fillings, chutneys and salads for people to eat. She was so good at providing a delicious spread in virtually no time.

She also ran the buffet for my 40th birthday party with great aplomb, making sure everything looked pretty and appetising and organised the clearing up afterwards.

She was so generous, too. My child benefitted from a clear out of her children’s books and toys, many of which are still cherished to this day.

One Lib Dem Christmas Party became particularly exciting as her first grandson was born much earlier than expected. She was so proud of her children Jeff and Susanne and adored her grandchildren and was always telling us what they were up to.

Women Liberal Democrats (as Lib Dem Women used to be known) simply wouldn’t have existed in Scotland without Helen. She drove it forward and got it well recognised and respected as an important contributor to policy debates.

Helen was the life and soul of any party and the Party. She was a dear and loyal friend to many. I know that many of you reading this will have your own memories of her. Please share them in the comments.

Helen’s family has set up a donation page to raise money for the Marie Curie nurses who cared for her so well during her final illness. They would appreciate your donations in her memory.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Alison Monk 19th Oct '16 - 3:33pm

    Helen took me under her wing and showed me the ropes of being an area organiser, I wouldn’t have survived the experience without her. East Dunbartonshire will not be the same.

  • Frank Bowles 19th Oct '16 - 4:56pm

    It is such terribly sad news, I can only echo Caron’s words; Helen was such a huge character in so many ways, not least her generosity and her endless commitment to the Party and the other causes she believed in. In East Dunbartonshire there is now always going to be an empty chair…

  • John Barrett 19th Oct '16 - 7:06pm

    Sadly 2016 had been a sad year with the loss of so many people.

    I had not seen Helen for a while, but like Caron and I am sure many others too, I had enjoyed many hours spent in her company over the years at conferences, after committee meetings and at by-elections, often with a glass of wine in hand. Her positive outlook on life was infectious.

    She will be a great loss to family, friends and the party.

  • Like John, I hadn’t seen Helen for a long time, and I didn’t know her particularly well. But she was the archetypal LibDem activist. Solid, committed, stalwart. Always friendly, with a smile for everyone. Just the sort of person who keeps our party going. Sad news.

  • What a beautiful tribute, Caron, thank you for posting this. Helen was a wonderful activist, always busy helping others whether in the Lib Dems, in the local Oxfam shop, raising money for Poppy Scotland or organising Meals on Wheels.

    She poured her boundless energy into everything she did in life, and with such warmth and generosity. She was an essential part of our victory winning East Dunbartonshire back in 2005, holding it in 2010, and coming so close in 2015.

    I visited her last month, not long after her diagnosis, and was amazed by her undimmed spirit and capacity for conversation 🙂 Frailer, yes, but very much still Helen as we always knew her.

    It is devastating that just three weeks later, she is gone.

  • I’m very sad to hear that Helen has passed away. She was an activist personified and I’m glad to have made her acquaintance via the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

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