Obituary: Mr Thomas (Tom) Russell CMG, CBE, soldier and governor

Thomas Russell
Thomas Russell
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Mr Thomas (Tom) Russell CMG, CBE died on 5 July, 2016 at the Borders General Hospital Melrose, Scotland, aged 96.

Mr Thomas (Tom) Russell CMG, CBE died on 5 July, 2016 at the Borders General Hospital Melrose, Scotland, aged 96.

Mr Russell had a distinguished career, serving in United Kingdom Overseas Territories in senior positions for 34 years and representing the Cayman Islands Government in London for a further 18 years on return to the United Kingdom in 1982.

He then retired to his home in Scotland, where he led a quiet life and, as he said, was happy to revert to being “one of Jock Tamson’s bairns”.

He was the eldest son of the late Col Thomas Russell OBE MC, born on 27 May, 1920. His twin brothers, born in 1923, and his mother also preceded him. He attended Gattonside School, Melrose Grammar School and Hawick High School before taking an MA degree at St Andrews University. Enlisting in 1940, he served in the Black Watch and the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) battalion of the Parachute Regiment in North Africa and Italy, taking part in the landings at Taranto in 1943, and being wounded and taken prisoner of war in February 1944.

Returning to the United Kingdom at the end of the war in Europe he served as Adjutant of No 1 Parachute Regiment ITC, being discharged with the rank of Captain in September 1946.

Appointed to the Colonial Administrative Service, he was sent to Peterhouse College, Cambridge for a course in Colonial Administration, where he also took a Diploma in Anthropology. In 1948, he assumed duty as a District Commissioner in the Solomon Islands. This also entailed magisterial duties.

In 1951, he married Andree Desfosses, his French fiancée, whom he had met during the war in Algeria. Their only son, Malcolm, who predeceased him in 2010, was born in 1956.

Thereafter, serving briefly in Fiji at the Headquarters of the Western Pacific High Commission, he returned to the Solomon Islands in 1952, advancing through the posts of Senior Assistant Secretary (Personnel), Financial Secretary and Chief Secretary. These posts required him to be an official member of the Solomon Island Parliament presenting Bills, Budgets, Development Plans and responding to motions and questions.

He was awarded the OBE in 1963 and the CBE in 1970.

In 1974, he was appointed Governor of the Cayman Islands which also involved being Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the Cayman Islands Parliament.

His experience in the Solomon Islands suited him well for both functions and he related well both to the business community and to people in all walks of life. His term of office, initially for three years was extended several times to a total period of seven and a half years – a record for a Colonial Governor in one territory. He was awarded the CMG in 1980.

Returning home to his house in Farnham, Surrey, in 1982, he was appointed Representative of the Cayman Islands Government in the United Kingdom and established an office in London, which, among other duties, took over recruitment of British staff for service in the Cayman Islands. He continued in this post until the age of 80, his wife, Andree, dying in 1989.

In the year 2000, he returned to the family home in Gattonside, although he retained a house in Cahors in France, which he visited regularly.

Tom Russell was a former Chairman of the Council of the Pacific Islands Society of United Kingdom and Ireland and is still a member of that body. He was an Honorary Life member of the Cayman Islands Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He has been a Council Member of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League since 1982 and was appointed to the Executive Committee in 1987, a post he held latterly as Grand President’s Nominee.

He was appointed President of the Melrose Branch of the British Legion, Scotland in 2004 and was a member of the Melrose Parish Church congregation after his return north.

Despite his years, Tom Russell still travelled widely to Pacific Islands Society functions and to Ex-Service meetings in London, where he stayed at the Caledonian Club (of which he was a member). He continued to visit his house in France several times a year and maintained his links with the Cayman Islands. He published his memoirs “I Have the Honour To Be” in 2013.

Flags were flown at half mast in the Cayman Islands for two days in honour of the former governor.

Tom pursued his life with great humour and vigour. He never saw age as a barrier and his sharp wit and charm was with him to the end. Whilst there is great sadness, we can also celebrate an extraordinary life well lived.

Mike Hogg