BURMESE-BORN Scot who took on a lifetime responsibility for family’s historic estates
Tina Macmillan Douglas, landowner, nurse and Red Cross volunteer.
Born: 30 March, 1919, in Burma. Died: 21 March, 2015, in Brechin, aged 95.
As a little girl growing up in Burma, the daughter of a successful businessman and his novelist wife, young Tina Thornes Roberts enjoyed a carefree colonial lifestyle where she was schooled by a governess and pastimes included riding on the backs of elephants.
But by the time she was in her late teens she had acquired a somewhat onerous responsibility for a young woman – the stewardship of a Scottish country estate that had once belonged to the Queen Mother’s forebears.
She was fresh out of finishing school when she inherited the house and lands of Brigton, in Angus – a lifelong commitment that she was to embrace with vigour, facing the challenges posed by post-war austerity and preserving the heritage of the house for future generations whilst also serving her local community until into her 90s.
Born in Maymyo, a hill town in the Mandalay area of Burma, now known as Myanmar, she was an only child whose father Basil Thornes Roberts, worked for the Bombay Burma Timber Company and mother Marion was a novelist and ghost writer.
At the age of eight she returned to the UK to be educated at Downham boarding school in Kent, being separated, as was the custom then for many ex-pat families, from her parents for much of the year, a lifestyle that served to give her a certain sense of independence and ability to look after herself.
In Burma both her parents loved to ride – horses, polo ponies and elephants – and she too enjoyed riding and hunting, particularly in Berkshire where she sometimes stayed with an aunt during school holidays.
After leaving Downham in 1936, she went to finishing schools, firstly in Paris and then in Germany. In the French capital she attended Mademoiselle Fauchet’s in Passy, where she studied French, history, history of art and took drawing lessons, making lifelong friends among her fellow students. That experience of soaking up the history, culture and architecture, was followed by a spell in a similar school in Munich, led by Grafin Rex, and skiing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the winter Olympics took place in 1936.
Then in 1938 she inherited Brigton, a lovely country house and 200 acres, from her grandfather, General William Douglas CBE, who had no son and five daughters, of which her mother was the eldest.
The Douglas family had acquired Brigton in 1742 from the Earls of Strathmore – the Lyon family, before they became Bowes Lyon – who owned extensive lands at Glamis, later the childhood home of the late Queen Mother.
The teenage Tina’s parents were living at Brigton when she inherited, and her father, having already done a huge amount of work to modernise the house and estate, subsequently passed on his knowledge of estate management, for which the new young custodian was most grateful. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, when she was 20, she became a nurse, initially volunteering at a neighbouring country house, Reswallie, which had become a rest and recuperation centre, and later working at Edinburgh Castle, when it was converted into a hospital, and then at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
A few months after the war ended with victory over Japan she married Lieutenant Ian Macmillan MBE of the Gordon Highlanders, who had just returned from fighting in Burma. A condition of her inheriting Brigton was that she retained the family name of Douglas and so the newlyweds took Macmillan Douglas as their surname.
Almost immediately her husband was posted to Essen in Germany, and she accompanied him there. She greatly enjoyed the country and, after coming back to Scotland to give birth to their son in Edinburgh, she and the baby returned to Essen. But her world changed fundamentally the following year when her husband was invalided out of the army after contracting tuberculosis.
The disease severely restricted his ability to work and take part in other activities for the rest of his life – a particularly cruel blow for a man who had a tennis blue from Cambridge and had played hockey for the army.
However, his wife took the added responsibility in her stride, displaying the typical stocisim and can-do attitude of the era, working assiduously from then on and striving in the difficult post-war period to make the estate a success. They ran a market garden, along with the farm, and preserved the historic aspects of the house while ensuring it remained a wonderful family home for their son and the additions to the family, his younger sister.
They also threw themselves into community life. Her husband became a councillor and justice of the peace while she became heavily involved in the Red Cross, a decision no doubt influenced by her nursing experience.
She succeeded Lady Cayzer as president of the Angus Red Cross in the 1970s and took a close interest in the organisation’s work long after retiring from office, continuing to act as an informal ambassador until she was in her 90s.
She was also a patron of the Forfar Flower Show and president of the Kinnettles Rural Institute for many years and a long-term supporter of Save The Children locally. A keen historian, she had also been an early member of the Historic Houses Association and was an active member of the church in Forfar where she had married, St John’s, and the Angus Conservative Association. It was a full and enriching life that reflected her sense of duty to family, her heritage and community.
One great regret however was that the political situation in Burma prevented her from returning to the country of which she retained so many happy memories.
Predeceased by her husband, she is survived by their daughter Marion, son Angus and his wife Rosie who now live at Brigton, and grandchildren Alice and Iona.