Pamela Erskine obituary

Jonathan Erskine
·2 min read

My mother, Pamela Erskine, who has died aged 87, was a career librarian and a shining example of the postwar belief that people can collectively make the world a better place.

Born in London, within the sound of Bow Bells, to Thomas Bowell and his wife, Mariam (nee Parsons), who was in domestic service, Pamela had a wartime childhood that was marked by frequent moves of house and school due to her father’s police career and bomb-damaged family homes. Her interrupted schooling, however, only served to convince her of the importance of education and fair opportunities for everyone, at all stages of life.

As a teenager she found work in the library service of south London, and later used this experience to forge a career as a children’s librarian, first in Lanarkshire and later in the Scottish Borders town of Hawick. There, she instituted story hours for children, ensured that they should be allowed to borrow more than one book, and organised visits from children’s authors.

Here she met Andrew Erskine, who was also working in the library service. They married in 1958. He went on to become a history teacher.

In the 70s and 80s, Pamela also found a political voice as a union representative within the library service. She was a determined critic of the effects of Thatcherite policies, particularly when they resulted in detrimental changes to the terms and conditions of public sector staff, or cuts to the library service budget. She was especially concerned with the very stark differentials in male and female pay and career progression and she became a formidable negotiator. During the same period, and drawing on this experience, Pamela returned to education with the Open University. While juggling family life, work and study, she completed a degree in sociology in the 1980s.

On retirement in 1989, Pamela moved to Edinburgh, a city which gave her the opportunity to renew her love of the arts. With Andrew, she travelled extensively in Europe. When age meant that travel overseas became more difficult, Pamela rekindled her interest in gardening by taking on an allotment, where she was instrumental in creating a strikingly beautiful and productive vegetable, flower and herb garden.

Pamela was diagnosed with heart failure in her seventies. This was very well managed by a succession of cardiologists, GPs, and district nurses, so that she could continue to live an active life.

Pamela is survived by Andrew, her sons, Adam and me, and her grandsons, Andrew, Joseph and Thomas.