Jeanette (1927-1982) was a lady with many talents. She was born and brought up in Edinburgh and came to Whalsay around 1948 to teach in the island’s Primary school and later became the mathematics teacher in the Secondary department. In 1950 she married Whalsay fisherman Robbie Williamson and having always a keen interest in the sea herself she studied for her Coastal Yachtmaster’s Certificate and later her ocean-going ticket. She went on to teach Navigation at the school as well as run evening classes for fishermen. This enabled many of them to gain their certificates as fishing skippers.
Jeanette was a good musician and was also the school’s music teacher: she sang in the island’s choir, played the piano in bands for concerts and socials, and at home she loved to play her Hammond organ. It was given to her by Robbie when electricity reached Whalsay around 1964. She and Robbie were also good dancers and readily agreed to make up a team of six who demonstrated the Whalsay style of Shetland reel for a short film made by the School of Scottish Studies. Her one contribution to this site is the brief, charming lullaby Baa Loo Lilli.
The picture below is from the Daily Record of February 8, 1972 and was kindly provided by Dr Ian Napier of the North Atlantic Fisheries College, Marine Centre. It recognized the award of an MBE to Jeanette for her services to Shetland’s fishing industry – work which she had extended by correspondence to fishermen in all parts of shetland.
Part of the accompanying text runs:
“Jeanette Williamson’s sons are all fishermen. These are only five of them – she has 54 altogether. And every young seaman in Jeanette’s unique “family” has her to thank for his skipper’s or mate’s ticket.”
“Some of the young fishermen approached me and asked if I could help get them through their tickets…I was flying in the face of tradition and the old hardened types didn’t believe it was a woman’s place to teach men about the sea.”