Obituary: Roz Paterson, 13 June 1966 – 6 May 2019 • by Alan McCombes, former Voice editor • A bright light has gone out in the lives of many people across Scotland and beyond. Cruelly struck down by illness in her prime, Roz Paterson fought back with all her strength. She was desperate to see her beloved children grow up and to spend the rest her life with her soul-mate Malcolm.
I had the great privilege of being a colleague then a friend of Roz for the best part of two decades. Before I met her, I was already familiar with her byline and had read many of her exquisitely crafted feature articles in various newspapers she had worked for.
When she agreed to join the small editorial team of the Scottish Socialist Voice, we knew we had brought something special to the publication. Roz had flair, wit and style in abundance. Her natural eloquence flowed though every paragraph she wrote.
Her humour sparkled like sunshine on snow. Her humanity touched people’s hearts. And she was a superb editor, able to infuse even the dullest political manifesto with a touch of poetry.
More than that, she was a great human being. Calm, unassuming, warm, conscientious and professional. Everyone loved and respected Roz.
Years before the quote was engraved on the wall of the Scottish Parliament, the words of Alasdair Gray—“work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”—were displayed on a poster above her desk. Her political outlook might best be summed up as green socialist.
She was a strong supporter of independence for Scotland, which she saw as a route to a better country and ultimately a better world and campaigned hard for a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum. She detested injustice and inequality and yearned for a better society free of greed and exploitation.
Crucial role in Scottish left
She also understood better than most the intricate planetary ecosystem with its trillion species and complex web of interconnections upon which all life depends.
She brought into the Scottish socialist movement a much deeper understanding of the natural world and the destructive power of consumer-driven capitalism.
And she lived her life in line with her principles: ethical, compassionate and caring. In her characteristic low-key fashion, Roz played a crucial role in one of the great breakthroughs for the Scottish left: the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, in which six Scottish Socialist MSPs were elected alongside seven Greens.
Behind the scenes she wrote media releases, organised press conferences and was part of a small team that produced leaflets, election addresses and newsletters which won admiration even from political opponents for their humour and imagination.
And later, during the dark days of 2004 to 2010 when every SSP activist was forced to choose sides between truth and fraud, there was never any doubt which side Roz would take. In the sometimes murky world of politics she never wavered in her honesty, integrity and courage.
I later worked with Roz on the book Restless Land: A Radical Journey Through Scotland’s History. The book was praised for its style, wit and clarity—a testimony to Roz’s expert editorial eye and beautiful turn of phrase.
When the book was launched, she preferred to stay in the background and send a written statement down from the Highlands rather than appear at public events in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
That was typical—yet in her final months, she was reluctantly forced into become something of a public figure. To raise what she called the “telethonic sum of money” needed to treat her otherwise incurable illness, she had to make an audacious appeal.
It was against her nature, but she did it with style and sensational success, including through a column in the Sunday National. In a matter of weeks she was well on course to raise half a million pounds. When NHS Scotland stepped in to fund the pioneering new treatment in London, she insisted that every penny that could be returned was returned, or donated to four cancer charities.
We have long been told there is no point in trying to build a better world, because people are inherently selfish and incapable of rising above ruthless rivalry. Roz Paterson proved otherwise.
Outpouring of kindness
Her simple story of a woman fighting for life so she could see her children reach adulthood touched something deep in the heart of humanity. People in the local community, irrespective of whether they were Yes or No, Brexit or Leave, left or right, rallied round in a great outpouring of kindness.
She demonstrated that when the chips are down, there are many, many people whose natural impulse is to do whatever they can to help.
• Obituary first appeared in The National
SUPPORT ROZ’S FAMILY:
buy a signed copy of ‘Restless Land’
A small number of limited edition double-signed copies of Restless Land: A Radical Journey Through Scotland’s History – co-written by Roz Paterson and Alan McCombes – are still available. Sales so far have raised about £4k after costs for Roz’s family.
• See: restlessland.org
‘ROZ LIVED HER SOCIALIST IDEALS EVERY DAY’
Voice staff remember Roz
Ken Ferguson, Voice editor
With the untimely death of Roz Paterson, the Voice lost one of our star writers. We lost a person of great insight and warm personality who we were privileged to know and work with. As well as a superb writer, Roz was a deep thinker and was one of the first socialist journalists to highlight the gathering climate crisis and link it with the wider struggle for a society based on human values, real equality and sustainability.
Jo Harvie, former Voice editor
When I took up the post as editor of the Voice, I was terrified. Although Alan and Kath were never more than a phone call away, and we called them a lot, this paper was ours now and the responsibility weighed heavy. But our team was tight, and Roz ran our anchor leg like Usain Bolt.
Her talent was insane, her way with words natural and never forced, her humour danced on the page and her humanity shone brightly. She worked hard, like the Alisdair Gray quote blue-tacked to the monitor of her computer in the back corner of our news room. Roz grafted away there under crap strip lights, and never once moaned that Simon, Wullie and I monopolised all the daylight on the other side of the office. On press nights we slaved over the last of the headlines and captions, exhausted and bleary-eyed, until 3, 4 sometimes 5am. But Roz would still be grinning at the end of it.
Her contacts were unbelievably varied, and worldwide. The domestic violence campaigner in Nicaragua or the filmmaker who’d survived heroin and methadone addiction to fight for health-based drugs policy—Roz knew these guys and they wrote for us because she asked them. She taught us about the world-changing potential of the allotment movement, and how rambling has a land-liberating powerful role in our movement.
She was so much fun to be around. One afternoon when Roz, Kath, Simon and I decided the revolution would be fine without us for a few hours and we skived off in the Italian restaurant down the road, roaring with laughter until it was just us and the owners left, having just one more glass of wine. We talked honestly about whether any of us would have children, and not long later, her gorgeous baby Thea was on the way. That’s a long lunch I’ll cherish the rest of my life.
When the SSP was ravaged by crisis, our office was a safe space, Roz calm and confident in her principles, supporting the rest of us through tough choices. Her writing made me cry so many times, but never more than in the last months of her life when she wrote with true heart about her fight for life.
I can’t, will never be able to, reconcile the fact that she’s gone. But I thank the socialist goddesses that I had the chance to know her, work with her, laugh with her and love her. There’s no-one whose side I would rather have been at.
Kath Kyle, former Voice editor
Everyone who met Roz feels the injustice of being robbed of someone so talented, intelligent and courageous. And working with her, and being counted as a pal, is a privilege I will be eternally grateful for.
Roz was an education to work with and her lessons on journalism and life have served me well ever since, although I’ll never be able to touch her unique way with words.
Being part of the Voice was a wonderful time, especially with Roz’s humour to keep me grounded, even on print day. I marvelled at her ability to produce beautifully crafted copy without losing one bead of sweat. I was well out-classed as she elegantly cut through the crap to expose the essence of injustice wherever it lurked. I was jealous as her intelligence, natural charisma and open honesty won hearts and minds.
Roz taught me about kindness. Proper human kindness. She treated everyone with the same kindness and calm patience, even when they really didn’t deserve it—she lived her socialist ideals every day.
And, boy, could she run. I remember an epic ten-miler from her house in Glasgow, round Glasgow Green and back…. keeping up with Roz gave me an astonishing time but it took two hours before I could face the short journey home.
In the past few years I’ve been lucky to count Malcolm and her children as friends too and visiting them for the Beauly Gala was a treat my family looked forward to. Although a walk down the river with three children and a crazy black lab pup was always a recipe for disaster–we rarely all came back dry.
I’m proud to have spent time in work and friendship with Roz and even prouder to have shared her burning desire and the struggle for a better world with her.
Simon Whittle, Voice deputy editor
I remember the day Roz first came into the Voice office on Robertson Street in Glasgow—guessing 2001 sometime—for a job interview with our then editor Kath. Roz was sensational, naturally, and of course she got the job, and we were all soon a classic little team that would, over the next few years, spend so much time together trying to change the world for the better.
Friends were made for life. I probably spent most of my time in the office trying to make Roz laugh, because she had the sweetest laugh and smile, and she was in that tiny minority who found my tangential approach to humour actually funny.
Roz was telling us years ago about the ticking time bomb of climate injustice and the dangers of horrible processed food products like tinned chlorinated chicken and Turkey Twizzlers. Had Jamie Oliver’s agent bothered to return Roz’s calls, and had certain Holyrood politicians not poured cold water on the idea, nutritious free meals for all schoolkids would already have begun to make an impact on our nation’s health and well being.
We all still have a lot to learn from Roz. Her words, and her style, have resonated and will resonate through the years. She turned socialist journalism into an art form. I will forever look up to her.
Roz was one of the most beautiful, funny, intelligent, talented, caring and passionate human beings ever. It was a privilege to work and campaign alongside her and it was an honour to be her friend. I loved Roz and I loved making her laugh. I will miss her always but I will keep Roz, and her ideas, in my heart and mind forever.