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Obituary: Ronald Miller of Pittenweem, Baron, Writer to the Signet

Meticulous lawyer who had a taste for eccentric modes of transport while abroad

Ronald Miller of Pittenweem, Baron, Writer to the Signet.

Born: 21 May, 1919, in Edinburgh.

Died: 28 June, 2011, in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa, aged 92.

WILLIAM Ronald Crawford Miller, Baron of Pittenweem, who has died at the age of 92, was one of the last of a generation of Edinburgh lawyers who entered practice after active service in the Second World War.

Ronnie, or The Baron as he was affectionately known, exemplified the old legal traditions of loyalty to one's firm and clients; indeed he remained with the same firm, Steedman Ramage & Co WS, for his whole career, first as an assistant solicitor and then as a partner. During that period he acted for many of the best known families in the distilling and brewing businesses which then abounded in Edinburgh.

Despite practising in a period of huge change, both in society and the legal world, he maintained an efficient, calm and dignified air throughout. In all his dealings he epitomised the gentleman.

In retirement he devoted much of his time to the business affairs of the Scottish Episcopalian Church. He sometimes joked that in moving from acting for distillers to acting for the clergy he had just swapped one kind of spirit for another.

Ronnie was born at home in Blackford Hill in Edinburgh on 21 May, 1919, the son of William Miller, a well-respected accountant and taxation specialist. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (graduating with an accelerated degree in 1940 due to military service) and subsequently studied Scots law at Edinburgh University after the war.

Ronnie's young manhood was absorbed by war service with the First Battalion The Duke of Wellington's Regiment where he rose to the rank of captain.

He served in North Africa, Italy (where he was wounded at Anzio in 1944), Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus. Over the years he maintained a strong connection with the regiment, attending many reunions. His bronze statue of the Iron Duke on horseback followed him in his various house moves and was always given a prominent position, usually in the sittingroom.

After the war and legal study, Ronnie served a legal apprenticeship both as a solicitor and as a Writer to the Signet with the well known Charlotte Square firm of Davidson & Syme WS, qualifying in 1949. Thereafter he joined the Edinburgh firm of Steedman Ramage & Co WS, where he remained until his retirement in 1984.

In those days lawyers tended to be general men of business and Ronnie's wide practice covered the private financial and legal affairs of the owners as well as their business affairs.

In everything he did Ronnie was noted for his attention to detail; his daily lists (duly ticked off) and underlinings (often in red) where someone had failed to perform were legendary. He never seemed to lose a client except when they went to heaven.

This busy professional life which lasted for more than 30 years did not preclude a wide social life and extensive travelling. In the late 1940s Ronnie had met Hubert Fenwick, an architectural historian and author, and the two became lifelong friends and companions. Hubert's work involved much travelling, particularly in Scotland and France. The visits, which started in 1949, lasted for some 50 years. On speaking to Ronnie it sometimes seemed he had always just returned from abroad or was on the point of departure.

Partly because both Ronnie and Hubert had a lively sense of humour and partly because Hubert liked a good story for his books, many of these journeys have passed into urban myth. Most of the European journeys were undertaken by car - almost always small, underpowered French cars - at first no doubt from economic necessity but later from almost perverse bravado.

An early trip had involved travelling round Italy by Vespa and Lambretta scooters wearing Glengarry caps, a story which Ronnie still recounted when his memory of other events had long since faded. The last trip through France was undertaken when he was 80.

South Africa played a large part in Ronnie's life. He first visited by ship in 1948 and travelled extensively. His sister Jean married in 1951 and settled in South Africa and his parents retired there in 1958.

Annual visits were made up until 1981 when his mother died. Further visits followed over the years and after Hubert's death he visited for increasingly lengthy periods until he died at his sister's house, Slayley Woods, in Kwa Zulu Natal on 28 June, 2011. He always spent part of the summer at The Priory, his house in Pittenweem, and requested that he should be buried in Scotland.

Throughout Ronnie's long life his strong Christian beliefs seemed to carry him through many difficulties and though he could sometimes lose his temper spectacularly he normally was cheerful and extremely polite.

A lifelong Episcopalian, he liked a little variety in his churches and at various times worshipped at The Water of Leith Mission, St John's Princes Street, The Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin and most lastingly St John's Pittenweem where he was treasurer for many years. He was closely involved with the Royal Martyr Church Union, holding several offices and finally becoming vice president for the last eight years of his life.

The Provost of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, the Very Reverend Dr Graham Forbes, said of Ronnie: "He is remembered with great affection at St Mary's Cathedral."

He and Hubert took great pride and substantial care in all the preparations for the annual service in the Cathedral each January commemorating Charles, King and Martyr. Ronnie's attention to detail for this service was symbolic of his profound appreciation of Charles's sacrifice and the Royal Martyr's commitment to one holy catholic and apostolic church.

Why Ronnie bought The Priory at Pittenweem and in so doing became titular Prior and Baron of Pittenweem has become difficult over time to discern precisely, though the garden which contains St Fillan's Cave was clearly a great attraction. Certainly he was always interested in Scottish history and The Priory's links with St Fillan, Cardinal Beaton and the Scottish Kings fascinated him.

He had previously renovated a smaller house in Pittenweem but the renovation of The Priory and the registration of the associated barony and his coat of arms gave him great pleasure.

The house also provided a great venue for the parties which Ronnie loved so much. He hugely appreciated the warmth and support of his friends in Pittenweem whose help allowed him to go on living in The Priory in later years as his health deteriorated.

In the words of Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, The Baron was "a verray parfit gentil knight".

Ronnie never married and there is no heir to the Barony.

 
 
 

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