SWOTY - 50 years of achievement

IT WAS a sparkling day for a sparkling occasion yesterday when 100 specially invited guests met at the Gay Gordon Restaurant in Glasgow for the first Scotswoman of the Year lunch-."

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HRH The Princess Royal was guest of honour at the silver anniversary event in 1987, won by 27-year-old nurse Susan Wighton
HRH The Princess Royal was guest of honour at the silver anniversary event in 1987, won by 27-year-old nurse Susan Wighton

This is how it all began, on June 12, 1963 when a much-loved Glasgow tradition was born.

The first Evening Times SWOTY lunch set the standard for what was to follow and over the years it has gained in numbers – now around 300 women attend annually – and prestige.

The first winner was Bessie Johnston – referred to in the article as "Mrs Douglas Johnston" – who worked tirelessly for the Glasgow branch of the British Red Cross for more than 50 years.

Alexander Gibson, then musical director of the Scottish National Orchestra, presented Bessie with the famous silver rosebowl – replaced in recent years by a beautiful trophy – with the words: "We are all delighted that you are the first of many women whose work and achievements will be recognised annually by this award and lunch."

Since then, a fascinating collection of women have joined the SWOTY ranks, from housewives and doctors to church workers and charity champions; from entertainers and politicians to mothers and social reformers; from business leaders and teachers to lawyers and missionaries.

The event has changed over the decades – it is now an evening affair, rather than a lunch – and so has the reporting of it.

Winners are referred to by their own names, for example, rather than those of their husbands; and there is less emphasis on what the women are wearing (in 1964, for example, before listing her achievements, the writer informed us Dr Nora Wattie wore "a dress and matching coat in deep blue green silk and black organza hat.")

Hailed as "an important feminine occasion" in 1964, it was originally held in restaurants around the city, before quickly finding its home in the luxurious surroundings of Glasgow City Chambers.

Hundreds of speakers, entertainers and guests of honour have attended SWOTY, from famous Scots comedy duo of the 60s Grace Clark and Colin Murray to some of the country's finest actors, singers and comedians, including Una McLean, Jimmy Logan, Elaine C Smith, Karen Dunbar and Dorothy Paul.

SWOTY has attracted high profile guest speakers too, from Esther Rantzen, who presented the trophy to 1985 winner Marjorie Jackson, to HRH The Princess Royal, who gave the 25th anniversary event in 1987 a regal touch.

In 1980, heart-throb newsreader Reginald Bosanquet and actress Kate O'Mara presented the trophy to Jean McLeod, who supported people with MS, despite her own disability and Charles Kennedy MP, who went on to lead the Liberal Democrats, presented the 1991 trophy to cancer research fundraiser Annette Turner.

FOR FIVE decades, the Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year award has honoured some of the country's most extraordinary people. From grandmothers to business leaders, charity champions to nurses, our annual contest celebrates women leading the way in all walks of life. It has attracted guests of honour as diverse as Princess Anne and Reggie Bosanquet, entertainers as varied as Darius and Nicola Benedetti and speakers including Karen Dunbar and Michael Grade. ANN FOTHERINGHAM looks back at 50 years of SWOTY.

P THE first tied winners were Glasgow Youth Choir founder Agnes Hoey and actress Molly Weir, in 1977. There have been joint winners on four more occasions

P MARGARET is the most common name for SWOTY winners – there have been five – with Jean in second place with four.

P SWOTY has been awarded posthumously only once, in 1996, to Gwen Mayor, the Dunblane teacher who died trying to save her pupils from a gunman.

P THIS year's winner, Erin McNeill, is the youngest ever SWOTY, aged just 22

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