An obituary in the Telegraph last Thursday has confirmed my view that these essays often provide the most animated and uplifting part of the newspaper. Skipping all the sleaze and the endless political commentary I always read obituaries first – not because of a morbid curiosity (though occasionally I fear that base instinct is also satisfied) but in order to be edified by the brave, eccentric and generous lives that are here described.
Peter Drummond-Murray fulfilled all these criteria. The article includes a photo of him in the uniform of Slains Pursuivant (he had a passion for heraldry and had been appointed Slains Pursuivant of Arms by the Lord High Constable of Scotland in 1982), with the caption that “he resembled some rugged Jacobite from a novel by Sir Walter Scott” (also see above). I can sympathise with the Jacobite connection; Drummond-Murray’s ancestor, Lord Strathallan had fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden and his stance has all the doomed and dreamy romanticism that the Hanoverian succession conspicuously lacked.
Yet although he supported the historic claims of the current head of the House of Stuart, the Duke of Bavaria, he was also realistic and a monarchist after his own fashion. And if it is the case that Sir Walter Scott invented, by the force of his imagination, much of what we think of as being part of the Scottish culture today, yet for a man like Drummond-Murray, his noble Scottish ancestry would have been a genuine source of pride.
I learnt from the obituary that Drummond-Murray once worked for a French firm that was reluctant to sack him because of the compensation involved – so he “hung large pictures of Waterloo and Trafalgar in his office” until they gave in. I think this is the kind of genial patriotism that Nigel Farage should exhibit at the EU – and which should be taught in school history syllabuses.
A Catholic, educated by the Jesuits at Beaumont College, he took his faith seriously. Noblesse oblige made him become a Knight of Malta in 1971 and he helped the Order establish a cancer hospice at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth. As their Scottish delegate he also founded a volunteer service to provide transport for housebound people and organise meals on wheels. I also read that “when the Sisters at one of Mother Teresa’s Scottish hostels had trouble with unruly down-and-outs he made a point of sleeping in the hostel once a week” – the kind of action that speaks louder than anything else in his life.
Although the obituary does not say so, I think Peter Drummond-Murray would have faced his death with faith and equanimity. It is related that he once told an elderly man “who was lamenting how all their friends were dying: “Look on the bright side – all our enemies are dying too.’” He appeared to have been a wonderful, large-hearted character; may he rest in peace.
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