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OBITUARY: Karen Morrison of Dingwall and Durness - a woman who made the world a better place

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Karen Morrison.
Karen Morrison.

A bright light has faded in Dingwall with the death of popular local woman Karen Morrison at the early age of 60, after a brave nine-year battle with cancer.

Karen left behind a world all the better for her efforts. Besides striving hard for local good causes, she left a wonderful legacy for many deprived Zulu children in South Africa, with her fervent support for a charity which has provided them with health aid and education, in some cases to university grade.

Even during her illness, Karen visited the area in which the charity operates, and many young beneficiaries who met her have mourned their honorary Zulu “Auntie Karen” from afar on social media.


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Despite a local warning of gales and rain, her funeral service at Inverness Crematorium on the last day of January was so well attended that even the corridor outside the main chapel was packed with friends and admirers, while donations for Highland Hospice and equipment for Dingwall district nurses reached £1800.

Karen Morrison with granddaughter Ella, shortly before her death.
Karen Morrison with granddaughter Ella, shortly before her death.

Karen was born in July 1963 in Opunake, New Zealand. Her mother Margaret Urquhart, from Dingwall, had met and married Ron McSweeney, a New Zealand-born electrical engineer who had been working on the huge Highland hydro-electric developments, and when these came to an end they moved to Ron’s homeland.

Her childhood was full of freedom. An active wee lass, she loved the outdoors, running barefoot in the grass or pedalling her bike everywhere, returning home brown as a berry, with her hair a mass of tangled curls - on occasion suffering her bike’s temporary confiscation for returning home later than she ought.

She became a talented swimmer, spending many hours in the pool. Her beautiful long curly hair, which she never brushed, became so tangled it had to be cut – much to her delight and her mother’s regret.

Shortly before her 8th birthday the family her little sister Donella arrived, closely followed a year later by her brother, Morgan. Karen always found time to play with them and help her mum out, by pushing Donella around in her doll’s pram, chasing after Morgan as he whizzed around on his little wooden bike or splashing about with them in the pool.

Karen and her family moved back to Dingwall in early 1975. It was a huge change from her early life – especially the weather. Initially she was homesick and cold, but quickly settled down, continuing to swim competitively. She was usually the smallest lining up at the starting block, but she swam like a bullet and won many cups and shields.

She was fiercely proud of being a Kiwi, with many happy memories of her life in New Zealand, and her accent never fully faded. She kept in touch with friends and family and would take any visitors from her homeland on tours of the Highlands they would never forget. She remained an avid fan of the famous rugby team, the All Blacks, and watched their matches on television or tried to see them at Murrayfield whenever they played.

Her love of adventure led to her joining Alness Sub Aqua Club at the age of 17, and she frequently dived off the West coast, in the Cromarty Firth, and even in the Philippines many years later.

After leaving school, Karen trained as a nurse at Bangour Village Hospital, a career she loved intensely. She particularly enjoyed working on the psychiatric ward, caring for the people within the wards with sensitivity, strength and respect. She later worked as a theatre nurse in Scarborough and would often tell gory tales of what went on in the operating theatre, which would horrify and fascinate her impressionable young brother and sister.

Karen moved back to Dingwall following the birth of her first daughter Kayleigh, and after living for a short time in the family home, she was determined to regain her independence.

By hard work and determination the pair moved into their first home in Millbank Road where they lived when she met Colin Morrison. In 1994 Karen and Colin married – her late brother Morgan, who sadly died in a car crash shortly after, proudly gave her away. Two years later their daughter Natalie was born.

Karen remained determined to ensure that married life would remain adventurous, while working hard with Colin to provide a loving, stable home. Both worked for several years at the Dingwall branch of Tesco.

Holidays were special family times and both girls recall fondly mad car journeys to France, riding camels in Tunisia, driving down dodgy tracks in Turkey, thunderstorms in the Philippines, bungee jumping in New Zealand, night safaris in Singapore and riding on scooters in Thailand.

Colin opened up a new world to Karen – that of the Durness community in Sutherland where Colin and his family were from, and where she enjoyed some of her happiest times.

She loved Durness, the people, the scenery, the family times. She also loved a glass of gin at the end of the night with Joyce, Colin’s mother. There she could switch off and have fun. Karen readily involved herself in good causes, at home and abroad, long before and almost throughout her illness. Family trips to Africa led to their involvement with GAGA - the charity Goodwill and Growth for Africa, founded several years ago by its chairman, Tony Weller.

Said Colin: “Karen would fight to the last. Over the last nine years she did the same for all of us, and showed incredible strength and courage in the face of the ultimate challenge that we all face. She didn’t tiptoe through life, she marched through it.

“She would never ask anyone to do something she wouldn’t do, and she always got the job done properly. She took notice of the people around her and if they needed help, she would always be there. Karen was devoted to her close friends and family, with a very special place for her beautiful granddaughter Ella who arrived only six months before her death.

“She put her heart and soul into fundraising projects for South Africa – the house is still full of African jewellery and craft which she had bought to be sold at the many craft fairs she frequented.”

Karen also took part in various Highland Hospice fundraising challenges – the last in September 2022, zip-lining off the Kessock Bridge. She had lost so much weight to illness that she slipped while climbing over the barrier and crashed heavily into the side of the bridge. However, she carried on and set off down the zip line - very slowly because she was so light.

Colin’s friendship with Durness-born property developer David Morrison, no relation, led to David’s company, Sangobeg Investments Ltd, founding a charity called Sangobeg Scholarship Programme, to support GAGA by providing funding for university level education and training for promising youngsters who would not otherwise have the chanceto realise their full potential. It currently funds 20 scholars studying various disciplines.

Some years ago a few of the earliest beneficiaries visited the tiny Durness hamlet of Sangobeg, where David was born and where Colin’s elderly parents still live.

“Karen was a very special person,” said David, “and she gave us a really worthwhile cause to support.”

The last word goes to student Gugulethu Mshengu, who posted on Facebook: “We have lost our precious Auntie. The Young Zulu Warriors’ Auntie Karen was the best to all of us. May God bless her soul and light from Heaven shine forever for her. Amen.”


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