Catriona McPhee-Smith

Catriona McPhee-Smith
Herald Scotland 


Charity chief executive;


Born August 29, 1964; Died April 1, 2011 


Catriona McPhee-Smith, who has died aged 46, was the award-winning head of one of Scotland’s leading charities whose vision and determination enhanced beyond measure the lives of those with disabilities.


She guided a small, local charity from its roots in a draughty old church to an organisation based in a multi-million-pound centre providing more than 60 services, from residential care to training and employment initiatives, across north-east Scotland.


The fact that she never set out to do it, made her achievements all the more impressive.


She originally hoped to become a vet but could not get onto the course so studied agriculture instead. In a total career change, she then became an accountant. Realising that wasn’t where her future lay either, she finally became a fundraiser.


Originally from Edinburgh, where she was educated at Mary Erskine’s, she first moved to Aberdeen when she began her agriculture degree at Aberdeen University where she also met her future husband, second year engineering student Kevin Smith. She later went to Stirling University for a post-graduate qualification in accountancy before moving back to Edinburgh where she spent a year as a chartered accountant.


Having decided accountancy was not the career for her, she moved to Aberdeen, where Mr Smith was living, and began working as fundraiser with the charity Cornerstone before moving, in 2001, to a small local charity, then being run on a couple of mismatched computers from an old church. 


It was Partnership Housing, now known as Inspire (Partnership Through Life), one of Scotland’s leading learning disability charities. This year it celebrates its 21st birthday and provides services throughout Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray. 


Mrs McPhee-Smith was the one who had the vision to build a centre of excellence and it was under her leadership and direction that the funding was secured for the charity’s new £3.2 million base on Aberdeen’s Beach Boulevard. The venture, which was opened by First Minister Alex Salmond in 2008, now houses office accommodation, a social enterprise cafe and conference facilities.


But the Boulevard project was not her only achievement. During her time at Inspire, she won a host of awards, including the Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2008 and the Institute of Directors Scotland Voluntary Sector Director of the Year 2009. She had also twice served as a member of the Children’s Panel.


Diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, she regarded it as another obstacle to be overcome, insisting that her PA went with her when she had chemotherapy, allowing her to do dictation and receive treatment at the same time. Many acquaintances were unaware that she was ill but that was the way she wanted it and she was determined not to be treated any differently. 


Six months later she learned she had unrelated oesophageal cancer and eventually took early retirement, in October last year, only because she felt she could not give her customary 110%. However, she continued to contribute to charity as failure was not a word in her vocabulary.


Stubborn, courageous and determined, she viewed any setback as an opportunity and never stopped, whether it was networking or organising countless “do’s” with her trademark attention to detail. She was a perfectionist and always expected others to do their best too – she just did not know any other way of doing anything. 


Meticulous in everything she did, she planned with precision and, though very easy-going, it would stretch her patience if things didn’t follow her timescale. Given her own enthusiasm for the job, she wasn’t overly keen on those who didn’t give 100%. 


She used her stubbornness to her advantage to get things done as she wanted them done, and she just wouldn’t give up. She led by example and her level-headed presence was a calming influence on those round her. 


“She guided and mentored everybody,” said her friend, entrepreneur Rachel Jones. “She was a very determined individual. When she got something into her head, she had to do it and she achieved the most incredible amount for Cornerstone and Inspire.”


Outside her working life, she and Kevin loved both travel and live concerts and managed to combine both to visit all four corners of the world. On one occasion, she also mixed business with pleasure, combining a trip to Australia with a sponsored climb and walk over the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge so that the charity would get the benefit. She still had a trip to Brazil in her diary for this month.


A woman who always had a slightly unconventional edge, she had the ability to mix with anyone, anywhere, and she never lost that touch or her gift for standing out from the crowd.


She is survived by her husband Kevin, mother Joyce and sisters Fiona and Susan.