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Norma Macleod photographed by Fiona Rennie

Tributes have continued to be paid to the late Norma Macleod, the award-winning Gaelic writer who was a pioneering director of Social Work at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

The passing of Norma, whose renowned husband Dr Finlay Macleod died in November last year, was announced last week. Norma was aged 79.

Yesterday (Thursday May 24) it was formally announced that “the interment of the late Norma E. Macleod” will take place in Habost cemetery tomorrow (Saturday 25 May) at noon.

The funeral cortège will leave the family home in Shawbost at 11.15am.

The interment will be followed by refreshments and readings/music at Ionad na Seann Sgoil, Shawbost. Donations can be made to Crossroads Lewis and the family has requested there be no flowers.

Norma was brought up in the Loch Chroistean school house in Uig. She was known as a singer and was often a judge at the Royal National Mòd. Norma wrote the first trilogy to ever appear in Gaelic, the novels Dìleas Donn, Tangeil Toilichte, and Suthainn Síor.  The first of the three was published in 2006.

Stornoway-based Acair, where she earlier had worked as editor and manager for several years, published her last novel An Dosan in 2014. She also translated many English books into Gaelic, especially children's books.

In a tribute this week, Publishing Scotland said: “We were saddened to learn of the passing of one of our former publishing members, Norma MacLeod.

“Norma was an award-winning writer of fiction in Gaelic and also managed the publishing company, Acair, on the Isle of Lewis, for many years.

“Norma was deeply immersed in the language and culture of the Western Isles, and made a significant contribution to Gaelic through her own work and that of publishing others. She was also great company, fun, and lively.”

Norma was Director of Social Work at what is now Comhairle nan Eilean Siar  from 1978 to 1994 and was the first female to be appointed to a Director post within the Comhairle and one of only a handful of female Directors of Social Work across Scotland at the time.

Throughout this time, Norma was a highly-regarded and active member of the Scottish Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW), constituted less than ten years earlier, in response to the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. The Association enhanced the promotion of the profession, giving it a voice as well as influencing policy and practice in both rural and urban settings.

The Act led to the establishment of Social Work Departments and a professional social work service being formed within the 12 local authorities in Scotland at that time. Norma was therefore one of only 12 Directors of Social Work holding such a high profile and prestigious position in Scotland.

A strong advocate of her native Gaelic language, Norma encouraged and promoted its use by social care staff working in various settings across the Western Isles.  In particular, when caring for older people, she recognised the psychological and emotional benefits that speaking in their mother tongue brought to them.

Norma had a strong understanding of the differing needs and cultural identity that is found within our communities and successfully introduced a ground-breaking network of three or four-bedroomed Care Units and Taighean Ceilidh throughout the rural areas of the Western Isles.

These small scale care unit developments recognised the desire of people to remain within their communities when independent living  in their own homes was no longer possible,  with the Taighean Ceilidh offering a meeting and recreational space for people to interact and socialise in.

These visionary projects of Norma’s directorship were a great success at the time, in high demand as well as being a key and important source of rural female employment in each of these areas for many years.

Under Norma’s guidance and direction, the social work adult and community care service was further modernised in response to the NHS and Community Care Act 1990.This legislation gave Councils responsibility for community care, shifting care away from institutions and requiring the service to focus on the needs of each individual.

Much progress was achieved during this time of transition and her service developments. It meant, for the first time, that many local adults cared for on the mainland over a number of years, away from their families and communities, were now able to return to live more independent lives in the Western Isles.

Norma was Director of Social Work for some 16 years when she left the Comhairle in 1994, leaving a strong legacy of community-focused social work and social care services, hugely appreciated across the Western Isles by individual clients and their families.

Her friends and acquaintances and all in the wider community are thinking of her family; Rachel and Ceit Anna and their families at this difficult time.

Photograph: Fiona Rennie (Sradag Creative)