Obituary: Dr Helen Cargill Thompson, passionate collector of artwork

Obituary: Dr Helen Cargill Thompson, passionate collector of art

Died: September 28, 2020.

THE outpouring of appreciation for Dr Helen Cargill Thompson would have amazed her. A real eccentric whose upbringing in pre-war Burma mixed with education at St Leonard’s and Cheltenham Girls’ Faculty gave her a particular manner, she pursued a lifelong ardour for artwork. Feisty, humorous, outspoken, beneficiant, with a pointy eye and thoughts, she was a novel and memorable determine, supporting many artists alongside the best way.

Her love of artwork started as a baby in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Artwork Galleries. She appreciated to say she started accumulating in earnest in 1985 ‘’when Maggie Thatcher introduced earnings tax down and I had some spare cash.’’ In truth she got here from a well-off West of Scotland household: her great-grand uncle had based Burmah Oil.

Nonetheless, she at all times maintained it was her thrifty nature which enabled her to gather, gifting almost 1,000 artworks to Strathclyde College the place she labored for 30 years. The artwork has enlivened lecture halls, employees rooms and corridors all through the college campus and she or he can be shocked that some is now in storage. In 2000 her assortment was valued at £250,000, however she by no means stopped shopping for.

She labored laborious at her artwork accumulating, visiting each diploma present, and keenly attended exhibition openings, be they of the very younger or well-known. Her assortment consists of many artists nonetheless grateful for her early help.

In 2000 she defined: “I made a coverage choice to purchase kids, principally from the West of Scotland. You should purchase one image for £5,000 or you should purchase 10 at £500, which is why there are such a lot of. I choose to know the place my cash goes, reasonably than the bottomless pit of the Treasury. I purchase what I like and my style is assorted. in the event you prefer it, if it pleases your eye, when you’ve got the cash, purchase it!’’

She used public transport, by no means taxis. To the alarm of myself and others, she used buses in her late 80s when affected by an ulcerous leg, even taking the in a single day bus to London to see main exhibitions.

Alongside her deal with artwork was her dedication to many charities and College committees. At 73, and Treasurer of Charity Training Worldwide, she went to Bangladesh the place she audited the library of UttarBangla College Faculty, which the charity had constructed to allow the poor, particularly women, to obtain tertiary schooling. Seeing the derelict historic Raj Constructing within the school floor, she funded its renovation.

Her household had come to Glasgow from Burma simply earlier than the outbreak of the battle, the place she and two brothers had been born. Her beginning certification included her tiny footprint, because it was weeks earlier than anybody may journey to the British Excessive Fee in Rangoon to register her formally. Possibly that’s the reason no-one really is aware of what her birthday is, apart from December 1933.

Her father labored as a service provider dealer. She spent 10 years as a analysis scientist, having gained a physiology and pharmacology diploma at St Andrews within the 1950s, plus a PhD at Edinburgh College with analysis into the contraceptive capsule. However she determined a profession within the sciences was not for her: ‘’I used to be sad. I used to be being requested to work in nano-science. I needed out.’’

She started coaching as a librarian at Strathclyde College in a brand new publish funded by the Workplace for Scientific Info, later changing into head of the Reference and knowledge Division. She stayed for 30 glad years till she retired in 1999.

Helen, or HCT as she was identified, regarded Strathclyde College as her household. Laura Hamilton, director of Strathclyde’s Collins Gallery for 24 years, instructed me, “Helen was a Gallery fixture. She supported each preview and attended each convention. She discovered the College’s 2012 choice to shut the gallery incomprehensible. It was Helen’s mission to enliven the sterile setting of Strathclyde’s places of work with work, drawings, prints and small sculptures. Her style was eclectic. Delivered in bulk with none forewarning it was nice enjoyable to unwrap the most recent ‘booty’! “

Considered one of a form, with robust views and never struggling fools gladly, she was particularly variety to struggling younger artists. Wearing smart footwear, lisle stockings, beige mac and cardigans, along with her hair braided round her head, she confirmed little interest in trend however, I’m instructed, took nice enjoyment of dressing up for the Collins’ Adam’s Ball in 1992, or modelling on the College’s annual charity trend present.

She had her quirks. By no means one to let something go to waste, and loving her meals, she would famously collect up leftover crisps or sausage rolls to take residence in a service bag. Elaine Blaxter, the library head, says: “We keep in mind a woman with a group of eccentricities but additionally an exceptionally variety coronary heart. She generally invited junior colleagues to accompany her to the opera. Every year she would host a Sunday lunch of cottage pie, then give a tour of her fantastic home. She championed librarianship as a career – that these with data expertise weren’t servants however equal companions working in collaboration with researchers. A product of the final years of empire, she was snug in her perception that she had been educated to command.”

Dr Thompson left her home and contents to the Nationwide Belief. Full with unique fittings and silk wallpaper, she noticed it because the higher middle-class sibling of the Tenement Home, a sort of museum. Her silver has gone to GSA silversmithing division, which she liked. She additionally liked guests to see her residence. Nothing was touched in years – one thing which can delight social historians.

She was Treasurer of the Scottish Pakistani Affiliation, former President of the Graduates’ Affiliation of Strathclyde College, and a loyal member of the Nationwide Belief for Scotland.

She was awarded a medal for companies to Librarianship by the Princess Royal in London, however sadly Strathclyde left it too late to provide her an honorary doctorate. Dr Helen’s generosity and laborious work on many charitable committees, coupled along with her outspoken, typically quixotic views made her a memorable character who might be a lot missed.

She is survived by seven nieces and nice nephews. There might be a memorial service as soon as Covid permits.


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