Sue Innes, Writer and feminist campaigner
From the Scotsman, 3 March 2005, by Joyce McMillan
Born: 4 May, 1948, in Weymouth, Dorset.
Died: 24 February, 2005, in Edinburgh, aged 56.
THE death of Sue Innes at the age of 56, following her bold and life-affirming six-month struggle with an inoperable brain tumour, has robbed Scotland of a true pioneering spirit of second-wave feminism, and of a writer, historian, journalist, researcher, teacher, activist and artist whose working life was shaped by her unfailing passion for telling the true story of women’s lives, and for campaigning for their freedom and fulfilment.
Born in Weymouth in 1948, and raised in North Wales and Peterhead according to loving but strict Christian principles, Susie reached her late teens in the mid-1960s, and began to rebel in spectacular style.
In the revolutionary year of 1968, she abandoned her art school course in Aberdeen to travel to California, Chicago and New York, working in a clinic in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco, at the height of the hippy movement. She took part in anti-Vietnam War peace campaigns, and demonstrated at the famous Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968.
By the time she arrived at St Andrews University in 1970, she was already a fully-fledged revolutionary feminist of the kind that Britain at that time had barely seen, articulate, passionate, and beautiful enough to become the subject of a famous series of dreamy posters by the St Andrews artist Jurek Putter.
Within 18 months, she was editor of the student newspaper, Aien, and had begun her sometimes stormy but hugely successful lifelong partnership with John Clifford, now one of Scotland’s leading playwrights, then a brilliant but bashful student in the university’s Spanish and Arabic departments. John and Susie graduated in 1974, and in the series of remarkable homes they made for themselves - moving on from Lathockar Farmhouse outside St Andrews to Merlindene on the Fife coast, Roslin outside Edinburgh, and eventually to Edinburgh itself - they began to live out some of their most firmly held beliefs, in the possibility of communal living, in concern for the environment, and, above all, in real equality between men and women. Susie’s gardens were legendary, as were the beautiful plans and drawings she made in the process of creating them. In 1980 and 1985, John and Susie’s two daughters, Rebecca and Katie, were born, both carrying the name of Innes, and becoming the greatest joy and pride of Susie’s life.
Throughout this period, Susie continued the career in journalism she had begun as a student, working first for BBC Radio Scotland and as Scottish correspondent of Social Work Today, then, from 1980, for The Scotsman, where she was features writer and children’s editor on the newly-launched Saturday magazine. In 1988, she moved on to Scotland on Sunday, first as editor of its Living section, then as a regular columnist, covering a huge range of subjects related to women’s affairs. In 1993, she started a part-time PhD in politics and social history, and after parting company with Scotland On Sunday in 1995, she began to produce what was to become an avalanche of books, reports, articles, essays and conference papers on women’s social and political history, and their current situation, particularly in Scotland.
In 1995, Chatto & Windus published her best-known book, Making It Work, about change and challenge in women’s everyday lives in the 1990s. In the past decade, she taught at the University of Glasgow, became a research fellow at Edinburgh University and Glasgow Caledonian University and worked as an official reporter in the Scottish Parliament. Only last summer, she was appointed to share the job of researcher and development worker for Engender, the Scottish women’s research and information organisation. At the time of her death, she was working with fervent commitment to co-edit a Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, to be published later this year by Edinburgh University Press.
Susie’s death came far too early, at a time of rich personal and professional fulfilment, when her work was winning increasing recognition, nationally and internationally. But the courage, gaiety, and sheer, sensual love of life with which she faced down her final illness were the best memorial to her magnificent pioneering spirit. And although the wonderful, gleeful laugh she always directed at the pomposities of the world is silent now, those she loved can be sure that that spirit lives on; not only in John, Rebecca, Katie and her mother, Jean, who survive her, but in the hearts and minds of an army of friends and readers, whose lives she helped to re-imagine, and transform.