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Ellen Lillie, whose love story was formed in Fife coal board canteen, dies

Ellen Lillie and her husband James.
Ellen Lillie and her husband James.

It was an arranged marriage planned in the coal board canteen in Cowdenbeath that turned into a 48-year love story.

Ellen Macpherson’s mother Janet was cook at the canteen while James Lillie’s mother was assistant cook.

The two hatched a plan to get their offspring together. James was sent to Janet’s house with a message and met Ellen, who made an instant impression.


Looking back at their life together after the death of midwife Ellen aged 74, James said: “It was love at first sight. She was beautiful and I was so proud of her every day.

“Some cultures do have arranged marriages and this proves they work.

“She was a beautiful woman. I still do not know why she chose me.”


Over nearly three decades, Ellen delivered hundreds of babies, probably even thousands, at Dunfermline maternity unit.

She had trained for nursing at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh where she formed bonds with fellow students which lasted a lifetime.

Ellen was born in Kelty to village blacksmith Robert Macpherson and his wife Janet.


She was educated in Kelty Primary School then Kinross High School and did pre-nursing training at Fod House, Dunfermline, before starting her training in Edinburgh.

Ellen went on to undergo midwifery training at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

She met James around 1970 and the couple married in Kelty Church in 1974.


He was an electronics engineer working with early semiconductors for a firm in Glenrothes.

They had a spell in London where James worked as product manager for an electronics firm and Ellen worked in Perivale Maternity Hospital before they returned to Scotland.


They couple’s first home was in Cowdenbeath but Ellen yearned for the countryside so they moved to a rural property near Blairadam where she was able to keep hens, ducks and geese.

Ellen had a short spell working at a nursery in Dunfermline before spending 28 years in the midwifery unit and labour ward. She loved her work and never considered it a job.

The final period of her career was spent working in community midwifery.


James said: “We had a good retirement. We went on holiday every year and particularly loved rural France.

“We did the West Highland Way and several guided highland walks organised by mountain rescue teams.

“Each Easter we had a break at Kincraig and loved walking the many routes in that area, one to the beautiful Loch Einich.


“Many of our adventures at home and abroad were with lifelong school friends.

“Ellen often said that when she died she would like her ashes scattered at Loch Einich, which is a lovely, peaceful place.

“It is my intention to save Ellen’s ashes and scatter them with mine when the time comes.”


Ellen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016 which robbed the couple of what should have been the best years of their lives.

James said: “After three years of home care, Ellen had to go into Roselea care home, Cowdenbeath, where she was treated well with compassion, care and respect until her demise.

“Ellen’s good friends from when they were student nurses, Kate, Sheila and Diana, visited Ellen loyally right up to the end, even though the recognition was gone.

“No words can express my thanks.”

You can read the family’s announcement here.

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