Sheena Grant, 1941-2010

March 24, 2011

Through her work as a local champion of the rights of the lowest-paid staff in higher education, Sheena Grant also became a national figure in the trade union movement.

She was born in Aberdeen on 14 May 1941 and her childhood home was a tenement next to St Mary's Cathedral, where her grandmother worked as a cleaner. In 1984, Ms Grant followed her into the profession, taking a cleaning job at the University of Aberdeen.

She was responsible for cleaning Marischal College, which is now leased to Aberdeen City Council, and its former Senate Room has since been renamed in her honour.

Christine McLeod, branch steward for Unison at the University of Aberdeen, said that the gesture was a fitting tribute. "Sheena would have been so proud. Unison has lost a valued member and a much-loved friend," she said.

When the trade union was formed in 1993, Ms Grant was elected as the first chair of the Aberdeen branch. In addition to her work locally, Ms Grant also took on responsibilities at the national level, and became heavily involved in the implementation of new national pay and grading arrangements for higher education staff.

The work she did for the trade union was all the more impressive given that the majority of her duties were done on a voluntary basis.

Ms Grant's experience led to her appointment in August 2003 as a governor on the court of the university, and in 2006 she was appointed an MBE for services to education. "Sheena said at the time that she was absolutely flabbergasted," recalled Steve Cannon, Aberdeen's secretary. "With typical modesty, she initially thought it was a wind-up until she read her citation letter from Buckingham Palace and realised it contained too much detail to be a joke."

He added: "She believed that the university was a special community and that it was so because of the contribution of its support staff just as much as it was from the contribution of academic staff.

"For many, Sheena will be remembered as someone who epitomised that special community, one which is the poorer for her loss."

Carol A. Judge, regional manager of Unison Scotland, said: "Sheena's unwavering commitment to fighting the cause of low-paid women and men humbled many a senior academic as well as others in the trade union movement.

"She was also so dedicated to university life, enriching students' experiences and especially keeping all the support services 'in-house'. Her tenacious and unique style is irreplaceable."

Ms Grant died on 10 November 2010 after a battle with cancer. She is survived by her husband John and her two children.

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