Citation: Catherine Robertson

Monday 1 December 2014

Catherine Robertson
University Medal
Citation by Dr Mark Elliott, School of Divinity
1 December 2014

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Catherine Robertson for the University Medal.

Today we celebrate the 38-year service of the St Mary’s College cleaner, Cathie Robertson, who retired in August. Catherine Smith Robertson was born at Boghall Farm, Kingsbarns and attended both Kingsbarns Primary School and St Andrews Burgh School. Aged 15 she began to work for Mrs Taylor’s Ltd, Ladies’ Outfitters in South Street, St Andrews. She married Bill in 1964 and this year they celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary. She has two daughters and two grandsons. In 1976 she began to work for the University and made it her job to keep the seventeenth-century building of St Mary’s College on South Street as beautiful as it always had been.

Cathie spent most of her married life in Kingsbarns and Boarhills, moving to Crail in 2003.

It was around this time that I met her and recall her insisting that, although she travelled in early each day from Crail, in fact she hailed from Kingsbarns.

Not long after I met her, and it had something to do with the stonework she so lovingly cleaned, it struck me that Cathie Robertson was like a rock on which the rest of the operation at St Mary’s was founded. We (her colleagues) had her good work to build on, like it says in the good book about the sure foundation being laid. We were confident when we took unexpected visitors into the Senior Common Room or the College Office, or the wood-panelled St Mary’s College Hall, that the place would be beautifully kept; creating a welcoming yet professional impression.

By the time we got round to switching on our computers in the morning, the best part of three hours of her work would have already been accomplished. Some order had been brought to the chaos from the day or evening before. She looked after our rooms and the precious fabric of an old building – the curtains, the carpets, the Persian rugs, the furniture, those stone flagged stairs – to ensure that St Mary’s continued to be such a wonderful asset. Cathie was an example to us all, whatever our age or seniority, she went further than the extra mile.

Day in, day out, she was friendly and welcoming. And that takes effort and discipline. Academics, especially those in Divinity are an ‘interesting’ bunch. At best sweet, at worst selfish; most of the time ‘mildly eccentric’ but not always as straightforward as we like to think we are. At times she humoured us. There was no favoritism and that helped to connect people in the different parts of the building. Cathie was discreet yet interested in us and our common work.

As a newcomer a bit over a decade ago, I found that she provided a link, to the past. Here was living history, as she recounted stories about the time when Principal Matthew Black, famous for his ‘Jesus spoke Aramaic’ research, lived with his family in a house adjoining St Mary’s, which had been the residence of the Principals of St Mary’s stretching back to the very origins of the College. We were linked to that connection. Indeed there was a sense in which she looked after the whole building as though it housed a family, and she continued to treat colleagues like her kin. Her welcome gave to newcomers a sense of perspective, that there was a Fife beyond South Street, a saner world perhaps. A world that ran according to a reliable rhythm with an energy that was not frantic but deliberate and effective. These things we were shown by Cathie Robertson and we are grateful for them.

Chancellor, in recognition of her exceptional and dedicated contribution to the University over many years, I invite you to present Mrs Catherine Robertson with the University Medal.

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