A FORMER nurse who played a key role in saving Leuchie House from closure before leading its first years as an independent charity has been awarded an honorary degree from Queen Margaret University (QMU).

Mairi O’Keefe was awarded a ‘Degree of Doctor of the University, Honoris Causa’ at a graduation ceremony in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Tuesday.

She celebrated alongside Prue Leith, The Great British Bake Off judge and chancellor at Musselburgh-based QMU.

Mairi is the former chief executive of Leuchie House, a respite care centre near North Berwick that provides care for those suffering from long-term neurological conditions and their families.

She took over the helm at Leuchie in 2003 when it was operated by the MS Society; however, this was not her first experience in management as she has held various airport manager and change manager roles.

She helped save the centre from closure in 2010 after setting up the ‘Save Leuchie’ campaign and building support for the centre.

The campaign gained enough backing to allow Leuchie to become an independent charity.

Over the next seven years, Mairi and her team secured £4.5 million in grants from trust funds and donations from members of the public, as well as support from the Scottish Government, delivering more than 33,000 respite nights.

Mairi sat on cross-party groups in the Scottish Parliament, was vice-chair of the Health and Social Alliance Scotland and a member of the Governing Council for Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.

In 2013 she was awarded ‘Community Champion of the year’ in STV’s ‘Finding Scotland’s Real Heroes’ awards. Two years later, she received an MBE for services to people with disabilities.

Mairi has helped establish an official partnership with QMU, which has been in place since 2017. The partnership has allowed for clinical and work placements, research and creative opportunities to be provided to many students, including nurses, film students, dietetics, physiotherapy and gastronomy.

Mairi announced her retirement last year.

Professor Petra Wend, principal and vice-chancellor of QMU, said: “We are delighted that our students had the opportunity to learn about the career of this former nursing and social care leader and to be inspired by her achievements and her compassion for others.

“We are proud to recognise Mairi as a hard-working advocate for people living with disabilities across Scotland and beyond.

“We celebrated her achievements as a leader and her success in integrating healthcare with respite services.”