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Scottish Leader's Mussoorie Connection

March 27, 2023 12:29 IST
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Kate Forbes studied at Woodstock School in Mussoorie for 3 years, and lived in India for 8 years.
'She has a heart for service and we are excited she has reached great heights at such a young age,' says her teacher Sanjaya Mark.

IMAGE: Kate Forbes launches her bid for the Scottish National Party leadership contest at Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore, Scotland, February 27, 2023. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

As the Scottish parliament gets ready to elect the new leader of Scotland, an international school in India will be rooting for alumna Kate Forbes who is leading the race.

Forbes studied at the Woodstock School, a 116-year-old residential school in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand for three years. She studied at Woodstock from the ages of 15-17, grade VII to IX.

Her father worked as an accountant and volunteer at the Landour Community Hospital which also serves a large number of underprivileged patients in and around Mussoorie.

During the time the Forbes family, who belong to Scotland, stayed in Uttarakhand, her mother also taught at the school.

Kate Forbes lived in India for a total of eight years while her father was finance manager for the Emmanuel Hospitals Association.

The family spent five years in Ludhiana before coming to Mussoorie.


"During the most crucial years of her life, India was her home," says Director of Community Engagement at Woodstock Sanjaya Mark who taught in the elementary school during Forbes's student years.

"Those are the formative years of a pupil's schooling and India had a very big impact on her."

'I don't think that words are strong enough to capture my affection for Woodstock. It was perhaps three of the happiest years of my life,' Forbes said in a Woodstock 'Alumni Spotlight' interview which features on the school's Web site.

IMAGE: Kate at the launch of her bid for the SNP leadership. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Kate Forbes went on to graduate from the University of Cambridge and completed her masters from the University of Edinburgh. She worked for Barclays as a chartered accountant and was the youngest MP elected to the Scottish parliament in 2016 aged 26.

On January 18, 2023, Forbes visited Woodstock with husband and two children while on a trip to India.

Since the school was closed for winter break and there were no faculty or students present, she took a limited tour of the campus.

She spent three hours visiting the classrooms, playgrounds, dormitories and cafeteria, according to Robert Shoemaker, head of archives at Woodstock, who welcomed Forbes on the return visit.

'I learnt the art of communicating with people who came from fundamentally different backgrounds, outlooks, perspectives, religions, cultures, languages, ethnicities,' Forbes further said in the interview on the Woodstock Web site.

'I think at the heart of my politics there is the ability to love somebody else who is fundamentally different in their outlook or perspective -- that's what Woodstock teaches you.'

IMAGE: Kate campaigns in the Cairngorm Brewery. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

A day scholar, Forbes was the oldest of the three Forbes siblings who were pupils at Woodstock.

"She was among those students who live in their teachers' memory long after they have left school," says Mrs Sanjaya Mark in a phone conversation with's Archana Masih.

"She was a role model student -- academically outstanding, loved mountain hikes, sports and had a sense of service imbibed from her parents."

The teacher has kept in touch with the family and adds that Kate Forbes was actively involved in Woodstock's community engagement programme which gave her the opportunity to visit local bazaars and meet communities around Landour and Mussoorie.

IMAGE: Kate meets supporters before taking part in a SNP leadership debate at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. Photograph: Jane Barlow/Pool/Reuters

Woodstock is attended by students from all over the world which gives them exposure to diverse religions, cultures, beliefs and customs.

"The school has a very lovely religious life policy," explains Mrs Mark about the environment that shaped Forbes formational years at the school.

"It is a Christian school, but at the same time it provides an understanding for interfaith dialogue that is extremely important for world leaders as communities become more multicultural and multi-religious."

Forbes is known to be deeply rooted in her faith and attended the St Paul's Church in Landour, a short distance away from Woodstock, every Sunday.

IMAGE: Kate and Scotland's Health Minister Humza Yousaf, contenders to become the SNP leader and consequently first minister, attend the SNP leadership hustings in Aberdeen, Scotland, March 12, 2023. Photograph: Craig Brough/Pool/Reuters

"She is a wonderful human being who is working on the principles she believes in. Politics is not about winning a popularity contest for her. When you are in a position of leadership, you have to think of the common good," says Woodstock Principal Dr Craig Cook who joined Woodstock after Forbes left school, but met her last September at an alumni meet in Scotland.

"I was impressed that she is a woman of integrity which is rare in politics these days," adds Dr Cook, a US national, who has worked in schools and institutes of higher education in the USA, Indonesia and the Philippines. He joined Woodstock as principal in 2019.

IMAGE: Kate Forbes during presentation of the Scottish budget at the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Pool/Reuters

During their meeting, Forbes spoke about her days at Woodstock. "She did not have any airs and behaved like an old student rather than an MP," recalls Dr Craig in a phone conversation from Woodstock.

Though he was abroad during Forbes's visit to school in January, he says the MP must have used the time during her return visit to reflect on her own experience as a student in Woodstock and in India.

"She has a heart for service and we are really excited that she has reached great heights as an MP at such a young age," says Mrs Sanjaya Mark.

"It is amazing and definitely a matter of pride for the school."

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