JOYCE MCMILLAN on NINA HAVERGAL for The Scotsman, September 2007
Nina HAVERGAL, nee DAVIDSON, born Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, 19 May 1928, died Edinburgh, 9 June 2007
WITH THE DEATH of Nina Havergal, who has died aged 79 following a series of strokes, the arts community in Scotland has lost one of the most effective and capable friends it ever had, a fine amateur singer whose life was shaped both by her passionate enthusiasm for music, and by her formidable skills as an administrator and world-class fund-raiser. During a career which spanned the whole of the post-war period in Scotland, she played a key role in the development of many of our major arts institutions, from Scottish Ballet to the Edinburgh International Festival. She also enjoyed a devoted 25-year marriage to Henry Havergal, Principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama frrom 1953 to 1969, becoming stepmother and friend to his son, Giles, for many years artistic director of the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow.
Nina Davidson was born in 1928, into a country family in Fyvie, Aberdeenshire; and although her childhood was a happy one, the death of her own mother when she was very young perhaps helped shape her independent spirit, and her strong desire to carve her own path in life. She trained as a laboratory technician, and went to work at Aberdeen University; but music was the domnant force in her life, and she soon became secretary at the university’s Department of Music, working closely with the incoming Head of Department, the legendary Reginald Barrett-Ayres, to foster what became a true postwar reniaissance of musical life in and around Aberdeen. She also became involved with the musical life of Haddo House, Aberdeenshire, then emerging as a major centre for musical activity in north-east Scotland, thanks to the remarkable work of June Gordon, Lady Aberdeen; and towards the end of the 1950’s, in Aberdeen, Nina gave her most memorable performance as an amateur soprano, as the Countess in Ian Pitt-Watson’s production of The Marriage Of Figaro.
She also helped with the organisation of events in Aberdeen and at Haddo, developing a formidable network of contacts in the world of classical music; and it came as a surprise to many of her friends when, at the end of the decade, she decided to join the Women Royal Army Corps, rising rapidly to the rank of Major in the Signals Corps. According to her stepson Giles, she was particularly interested in the rapid advances in technology that were transforming the world of communications, and relished her pioneer role as an educator and trainer of senior male officers in what was then seen as a man’s world. Nina was careful, though, to maintain her musical life at home; and it was at Haddo, in the early 1960’s, that she met Henry Havergal. Havergal had been sadly widowed in 1962, at the age of 60; and in 1964, he and Nina were married, striking up a partnership which endured, with great affection and devotion on both sides, untl his death in 1989.
For some years after her marriage, Nina maintained her connection with the army; but with Henry Havergal’s retirement from the RSAMD in 1969 – the same year that Giles Havergal became Artistic Director of the Citizens’ Theatre – the couple moved to Edinburgh, and Nina gradually began her fourth career as an arts manager and fund-raiser. In the mid-1970’s, she worked for Scottish Ballet in Glasgow, and played a key role in raising financial support for the Robin Anderson Theatre at the company’s West End Park Street headquarters. In the 1980’s, she worked as a fundraiser for the Edinburgh International Festival, eventually winning the hugely prestigious UK-wide Garrett Award as Professional Fundraiser of the Year, from the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts. And in the 1990’s, after her husband’s death, she threw herself with great passion into her last major fundraising project, for the Alexander Gibson Opera School at the RSAMD, which she saw as a tremendous memorial both to her husband, and to Alexander Gibson himself, who had been among the Havergals’ closest family friends.
With the opening of the Opera School, in 1998, Nina went into semi-retirement, although she remained enthusiastically involved in the Scottish cultural scene, travelling often to Glasgow for concerts, opera, or first nights at the Citizens’ Theatre. Her declining health, in recent years, came as a tremendous irritation to a woman who had always prided herself on her capability and independence; but her spirit remained undimmed, and was sustained by her strong religious faith, which she shared with her late husband – who came from a family of distinguished English churchmen – and expressed through her long-term membership of the congregation at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Palmerston Place. On Sunday 30 September, there will be a memorial Concert for Nina at The Hub, in Edinburgh, with contributions from the singers Judith Howarth and Lisa Cassidy, from the pianist Malcolm Martineau, who was Nina’s godson, and from Giles Havergal. All Nina’s friends are welcome; and after such a rich life of service to the music she loved, and to the people who created it, it seems likely that for Nina, on that day, there will be a full house.
A Concert For Nina is on Sunday 30th September, at 2.30 pm, at The Hub, Edinburgh. To make a booking, call 0131 220 3389, or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.