A true inspiration, Margaret Neill Quinn is not only kind and gracious, but someone who can teach us all about the importance of treating people with respect and dignity.
As a child, Margaret spent much of her youth in and out of children’s homes. With fond memories of trips to watch matinées at the Astoria Picturehouse, and day trips to North Berwick in the summer, it came as a shock when it was decided her home would close, with children being sent to Gogarburn instead.
Gogarburn was a terrible place; an institution for those deemed mentally handicapped. Margaret endured conditions that would be considered cruelty today. She didn’t have a voice, and she didn’t have a choice. Many years passed before Margaret was given an opportunity to leave the hospital. After being in an institution for most of her young life, the outside world was an overwhelming and scary place. No consideration was given to helping Margaret adapt to this new normal.
With many ups and downs, and a tremendous spirit, Margaret eventually escaped the confines of Gogarburn to enjoy a career working for the Young Women’s Christian Association, before becoming a cook at the Eastern General Hospital.
Eventually, Margaret was able to live a life of choice. After retiring, she moved into her own home and travelled to places including St. Petersburg. She joined the Carr Gomm family over 20 years ago, and at 82, continues to enjoy life to the fullest. It hasn’t always been easy, but with guiding principles of kindness, respect, and understanding, Margaret continues to inspire us each and every day.
Below are some excerpts from Margaret’s book, My Life.
At Smeaton House, the house-parent-teachers were lovely. We had lovely parties and walks, and always got a half cake of McCowan’s toffee to eat on the way. Our food was cooked for us and we wanted for nothing. We were very fortunate children.
Nothing about Gogarburn was pleasant. It deprived me of a lot. There were cold baths, hitting with towels, and a lot of cruelty. There were no social workers, just psychiatrists.
We were classed as ‘mental defectives’. They showed us no respect whatsoever. We weren’t believed. It’s a treat to tell my story, to be believed. That is respect.
Dr Pilkington once asked me, ‘what are you doing here?’ I just smiled and said, ‘I think I’m here out of the way of the traffic.’ He couldn’t believe I was in the hospital. He couldn’t see a reason for me being there, but I was there.
I’ve been a fortunate person with good health and very many friends who have helped me through when times have been hard. I enjoy being busy and social, and love reading and watching documentaries.
Thank you Margaret for allowing us to share just a small part of your remarkable journey in the Carr Gomm newspaper. We loved listening to your wise words, and hope to do so again soon.
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