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Dorothy “Ann” Sandison (née Rhodes), age 84, retired dentist for Wick and Thurso, formerly of Hysbackie, Tongue, Sutherland passed away last Thursday (July 7) at the Dunbar Hospital in Thurso after a brief
She is survived by her four adult children, sons: Ian Blair Sandison and Charles Sandison; daughters: Lewis-Ann Sandison and Jean Smart. Ann will be familiar to several generations of Caithnessians for looking after their dental care with charm, a smile, and cheerfulness that made an otherwise unpleasant visit to the dentist not as bad as it seemed.
Born in 1938 in East London, within earshot of the Bow Bells, to a Scottish school teacher Dorothy and her husband Charles Rhodes, she was evacuated with her mother progressively northwards ahead of WWII bombings; from Leeds to York, then to remote Riccarton Junction in the Scottish Borders, where her mother became headmistress of the local school of the now abandoned settlement. Ann had fond childhood memories growing up as a “railway child” with access in and out of Riccarton exclusively by rail until a forest road was built in 1963.
After leaving James Gillespie’s High School, she studied dentistry at the University of Edinburgh and graduated in 1964 after having taken time out for the birth of her first son. She was one of a few pioneering female dentists during an era where little opportunities existed for women in medicine. One lecturer at her university even wondered why she was bothering and wouldn’t she “be better off as a housewife”. Ann worked in the community service in various locations in the north of England from 1964 until moving to Wick in 1975.
Her first practice will be known to many former pupils of Wick High School as the small dental surgery where their cavities were filled as quickly as the nearby tuck shop and a 1970’s menu of fizzy beverages and sweeties that would create them.
To keep up with demand, Ann moved into larger premises at 17 Francis Street, Wick, joining forces with dentist Neil Erridge. Her son Charles recalled that “provision for free dental care via the NHS may have been successively eroded by the policies of Thatcherism” but his mother’s grateful patients found novel ways for paying their bills.
“After finishing work one day and getting into her car she was confronted by the smell of fish and discovered several fresh salmon in the boot,” said Charles.
By the early 1990’s, Ann and her dental partners continued expanding access to dental services across Caithness, converting a disused nightclub in the centre of Thurso. “Once we got rid of the smell of beer, we provided facilities for an optician, a physiotherapist, and a beautician,” she reported at the time.
In 1993 Ann retired and said goodbye to Caithness moving with her husband, the late angling writer and journalist Bruce Sandison, to a home outside the village of Tongue where they could more easily access their shared love of fishing, hill walking, and wild places. Their house, Hysbackie, became a hub for anglers from all over the world and from all walks of life. Jeremy Paxman was a frequent visitor and even a famous American football quarter back squeezed through the door with his fishing gear.
Despite her career as a dentist, Ann always had time to keep up with her passion for art, both as a visitor to museums and galleries, and as an accomplished painter herself. From still-life to landscapes, Ann was interested in everything to do with nature. Charles recalled finding a dead wildcat in the family freezer that had been found run over beside the road by a local farmer who knowing his mother liked painting animals had dropped it off. “Mum would take it out the freezer and makes sketches before popping it back in before it defrosted.”
Ann’s family hope, that when her former patients look in the mirror in the morning after brushing their teeth, they should smile, and “Ann Sandison will be smiling right back at them”.