TODAY, a memorial service will be held in Inverness for Winifred Margaret Ewing former MP, MSP and MEP, known to the country as Winnie Ewing. Known to the world as Madame Ecosse.

She was not just an icon of our independence movement, but a beating heart of both it and the Scottish National Party – and one of our great minds.

I can’t remember when I first met Winnie which surprises me because it would have been a big moment for me. However, I do remember many of our meetings and consider myself fortunate to have spent some time with her over the years.

The thing that stood out for me was Winnie’s generosity of spirit. She knew and experienced a lot and wanted to pass that knowledge and experience to others.

The National: Winnie Ewing

My best Winnie story shows how she thought differently from most people. We’re all indoctrinated to some extent and we try to fight it with varying degrees of success.

But Winnie really was a free thinker. I used to visit her when she moved into residential care in Quarrier’s Village. My family live in Inverclyde, so after seeing them I would, from time to time, phone and see if I could pop in on my way home and the answer was always yes. Winnie always used to say “next time let’s go for a long lunch and share a bottle of wine” and I regret that I never did do that.

I always had the car but I now realise, me drinking the wine was not the important bit about that suggestion. Winnie just loved company and long chats.

READ MORE: Winnie Ewing: The story of 'stop the world, Scotland wants to get on'

One day when I popped in, I was talking to her about my then relatively new partner, the now SNP councillor Graham Campbell. Winnie had said she would love to see a photograph of him. So the next time I brought one in, in which he was leaning back against a tree with his arms reaching out sideways.

Winnie studied the photograph for a long time with that lovely smile on her face and eventually she said: “He looks like Jesus.” Many people reading this will know that Graham is Jamaican. He is black and has dreadlocks to his waist, and while it’s highly likely Jesus wasn’t white, the abiding image the world has of him is one of a white man with golden locks (and not dreadlocks).

Winnie’s mind clearly didn’t only picture Jesus in this way, though, and while it made us laugh, it really was a lovely response from someone with a truly open mind.

My funniest Winnie story tells a tale about her kindness. And she was very kind. Every time I lost or won an election I would receive a handwritten letter from her with heartfelt words of encouragement.

Such a thoughtful thing to do and something, in fact, that Fergus, her son, also does. The Ewing family has been very kind to me over the years.

Growing up my mum used to tell me about the times Winnie Ewing stayed with my Granny and Granda Purdie who were founding members of Greenock SNP.

READ MORE: MPs share moving tributes to SNP icon Winnie Ewing in House of Commons

They had an organisational role and whenever the Winnie roadshow was in town, when the meetings and campaigning (and, I imagined, shopping) were over, she would go

to their home for dinner and she would stay the night because they were inevitably going to be up half of it anyway, laughing, planning and reminiscing.

My mum remembered how they all loved her visits and I think they were a little bit in awe of her. I’m saying I can’t remember the first time I met Winnie but I do recall asking her if she remembered them.

The National: POLITICAL ROOTS: The author's father with Winnie Ewing after she won the Hamilton by-election in 1967.

I can’t be at her service but I will be watching and thinking about her kindness

I DESCRIBED the situation and told her their names and she searched the inner recesses of her mind trying to place them.

I think I must have had my expectant face on because she suddenly said: “Oh yes, Stuart and Sadie Purdie, yes, of course I remember, they were lovely.”

I was thrilled. Each time I saw Winnie after that, I would remind her and she would reminisce about them along with me.

A couple of years ago my mum, out of nowhere, suddenly piped up: “Wendy Wood! It was Wendy Wood, Anne!”. I had no idea what she was talking about. “It wasn’t Winnie Ewing that used to stay at your granny and granda’s, it was Wendy Wood!”

Leaving aside my utter confusion at my mother’s sudden recollection, I couldn’t stop laughing at the idea that Winnie had probably been about to tell me that first day that she didn’t remember my grandparents when she saw my face and, out of kindness, told me not just that she did remember but how much she had enjoyed their company.

READ MORE: The story of Winnie Ewing's legendary Hamilton by-election win

It made my day anyway, as it did each subsequent time we talked about it. I’m also not unhappy to think Wendy Wood is part of my family folklore.

I can’t be at her memorial service today and I deeply regret that but I will be watching online and I would encourage everyone to do the same for many more stories of Winnie’s kindness, her intellect, her campaigning savvy and her free thinking.

I will never forget her and I’ll never not be grateful for everything she taught me. Rest in peace, Winnie. You have earned it.