Journalist, businesswoman and first chair of the Scottish Housing Regulator

Born: April 12, 1953;

Died: February 5, 2018

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KAY Blair, who has died aged 64, was a successful businesswoman and prominent figure in Scottish public life who held numerous important appointments. Latterly most closely identified with the Scottish Housing Regulator as its first chair from 2011 to 2017, she was also a non-executive director of many bodies including the Scottish Legal Aid Board, the Scottish Ambulance Service, NHS 24, and the Edinburgh Sick Kids Trust.

She was also vice-chair of the Financial Services Authority Consumer Panel at Canary Wharf, vice chair of EIOPA, the Frankfurt based supervisory authority on pensions and insurance, the Scottish independent council member on the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and a member of St Andrews University Court.

Her extensive CV also included a successful journalistic career which led to her setting up her own corporate communications agency, Business Perceptions. And she sometimes recalled with amusement how she resisted the opportunity while in London to add ‘espionage agent’ to a CV then in its early stages. A lady of considerable energy, drive and capability, she also managed to combine many of these responsibilities while raising a family of three.

Born Ann Kay Crawford in Edinburgh to Alan and Isabella [Ella], she had an older brother, Alan. Her father was a principal civil servant in the Scottish Office while her mother was an administrator in the Department of Education. Brought up in the city’s Polwarth area, she attended James Gillespie’s High School where she was Dux.

After school she went to St Andrews University to study Russian and economics, her choice of linguistic subject being influenced, she used to insist tongue in cheek, by having a handsome teacher of the subject at Gillespie’s.

She graduated with an upper 2nd class honours degree before going on to do a Master’s degree at London University’s School of Slavonic Studies in Russian philosophy, politics and language and gained a distinction. Her flirtation with espionage occurred after that, in the Cold War days. Invited for an interview by the Ministry of Defence to an unidentified office in Whitehall, it was soon apparent those interviewing knew all about her. The possibility of work with GCHQ arose but she felt that might be in reality a little dull and far removed from James Bond type scenarios.

While at St Andrews, she met future husband Will Blair, a chemistry student from a Scottish family in London, and the couple married in Edinburgh in 1977. They went on to enjoy almost 41 years of happy and fulfilling marriage and had three children, Neil, Penny and Lyndsay.

Having resisted the pull of life in the Secret Service, her first job, briefly, was as a tax inspector which was not to her liking. She then secured a position with the Financial Times, initially as a researcher and later as a journalist specialising in economics and Russian topics. While at the FT, she collaborated on a book with the newspaper’s assistant editor about the Grunwick strike in North London and its significance for trade unionism.

After several happy years at the paper, she and her husband decided to return to Scotland to live and set up home in Edinburgh, firstly in the Braids area and later, Fairmilehead. Initially she worked for the Scottish Development Agency in Glasgow in an economics related marketing role for four years.

Once the family started coming along, she started to develop her own corporate communications agency from home, Business Perceptions, which targeted improving clients’ business performance through more effective marketing and communications, and this soon proved successful. She also began to write a weekly column on marketing for the Scotsman which would run for ten years while becoming deputy editor of the influential magazine, Scottish Business Insider.

After involvement in an appeal to raise funds for a new unit for Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital, she became a non-executive director of its trust, and as she was to remark, “That was the start of my non-executive career.” Numerous other appointments followed. In addition to those already mentioned, she chaired the NHS Lothian Acute Committee, was a member of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board linking the health service and social care authority and a member of Lothian Health Board since 2012 in which she remained active till last month. She had a strong public service ethic and was keen to make an impact for the greater good of the community. In this context, she wanted to promote the part played by women and was an advocate of professionalism, believing that payment for such roles led to increased accountability and better performance.

As first chair of the Scottish Housing Regulator, she and her colleagues were challenged with the introduction of a new regulatory framework for 186 social housing landlords throughout Scotland. Despite having no previous experience in the field, through considerable application, her powerful character and leadership skills, she established the body on a highly regarded footing, earning the respect and admiration of both landlords and tenants, attested by many warm tributes received.

Along with family life, skiing and travelling were her main outside interests. The children were regularly taken to Hillend ski slope for race training and Penny and Lyndsay represented the British girls’ team while Neil and Penny were briefly instructors in Canada. All enjoyed skiing holidays in the French Alps, particularly to the Three Valleys.

Kay is survived by her mother husband, children, brother and grandchildren, Lachlan, Jamie and Annie.

JACK DAVIDSON