Obituary: Donald Hardie OBE, businessman who ran Institute of Directors in Scotland for nearly two decades

Donald Hardie OBE, businessman. Born: 27 September 1928 in Kisumu, Kenya. Died: 5 July 2019 in Humbie, East Lothian, aged 90.

Donald Hardie was born in Kisumu, Kenya on 27 September 1928, truly a child of the Empire. His parents, John and Gertrude Hardie, came from Birnie and Aberlour, Morayshire; John had survived Gallipoli, then, badly wounded in Mesopotamia serving with the Scottish Horse (light cavalry), transferred to India with Skinners Horse after the war before settling in Kenya, a branch bank manager with Standard Bank.

Growing up in Kenya, with summer holidays in northern Uganda, cemented Donald’s respect for the British Empire and its positive influences. Sadly, the family had to move back to the UK, to Beckenham outside London, just in time for the Second World War. Donald was too young to serve but as a boy scout he would take messages between different anti-aircraft gun batteries on his bicycle before the era of full radio and wireless communication.

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He ultimately went north to St Andrews University – surrounded by returned veterans of the war whom he admired and respected; he always felt some regret at not having been old enough to have shared their service and sacrifice. While at St Andrews Donald became President of the undergraduate student body, played hockey for the university (and afterwards for Scotland), spent a scholarship year at university in Sweden and, most importantly, met his future bride, Sally Pat, at St Andrews. She was a Southern belle from Atlanta, Georgia, a graduate of the famous Vassar College spending a summer studying at St Andrews before returning home.

Donald subsequently spent the next year on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Indiana, then another year working in a tyre factory in Ohio – all because both activities brought him closer to Atlanta and Sally Pat.

It worked, she succumbed and they ultimately married in Atlanta in 1952. Donald was immediately conscripted into the British Army, specifically into the 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders regiment, and he served in various places in West Germany and Austria, keeping the Russians out of Europe. Sally enjoyed the regiment and made friends for life, but did also, smilingly, refer to those years as her time spent as a “camp follower”.

When his army service was completed in 1955, Donald wanted to move back to Scotland and liked either of Scotland’s two traditional export industries, woollens and whisky. Daily proximity to woollens seemed like a better prospect for longterm health so he joined Munrospun in Edinburgh and subsequently founded his own woollens export company, Hardie Wood Ltd, with Angus Wood.

He and Sally rented, then bought, Chesterhill House in Humbie and thus established their home base for the next 60 years. They loved and complemented one another across continents and interests and quickly became part of the East Lothian social scene; by 1960 there were three children, David, Robin and Katharine, and Donald was developing an interest in British politics.

Donald became very involved in both local and national politics for a decade, hosting Cabinet ministers at home and being featured on US television show 60 Minutes as the classic British by-election candidate. He ran as a Conservative candidate for Parliament in difficult constituencies (Berwick & East Lothian, and Northumberland after Lord Lambton’s indiscretions) and came frustratingly close: he lost one election in Northumberland by 57 votes out of 45,000 votes cast and another, in Berwick & East Lothian, by 641 votes – but made countless loyal and permanent friends in the process because of his honest and obvious concern for the needs of ordinary citizens. Donald then ran the referendum campaign in Scotland in 1974 in favour of joining the then Common Market and was rightly proud of their winning result.

He went on to become the Executive Director of the Institute Of Directors in Scotland in 1979, which he ran for 18 years.

His work took him across the breadth of Scotland; he was able to organise and motivate at every social level, made more new friends everywhere and in 1987 was honoured with an OBE for his work and contributions to business in Scotland. As well as the IOD, he was the Scottish trustee for the Imlay Foundation from Atlanta which donated $50,000 per year in small grants to small scale non-profit social activities in Scotland (e.g. hydraulic lift chairs at therapeutic horse riding stables).

His love for Scotland was understood by all who knew him and good examples are the National Museum of Scotland, which he worked tirelessly to help create in 2006, and then promote, as well as the 50th anniversary addition in 1994 to the Second World War memorial in the Netherlands to the 51st Highland Division.

He also leaned quietly into his Presbyterian Church of Scotland heritage during his whole life, as demonstrated by his 55 years of service as the Session Clerk at Humbie Kirk.

The latter years were spent enjoying life in East Lothian, golf and lunches at Muirfield, annual trips to Augusta, Georgia for the Masters golf tournament, holidays every August on a ranch in western Wyoming, occasional pheasant shoots locally with friends and stories shared with his five grandchildren, Cameron, Lachlan, Caitlyn, Margaret and Kurt. Then came the sadness of his dear Sally’s long decline and his own physical distress and bedbound years at home, where Donald was helped by his companion Lindsey Bamber before his final departure on 5 July 2019.

Above all, Donald enjoyed his time with people from all backgrounds and across the world. He listened to what people had to say, looked for the positive connections and how to make people smile. He could always produce a story or a lesson from past history, usually Scottish history, which would be relevant and interesting, and he influenced many people and businesses with ideas and introductions.

His pride and respect for his ancestors and their achievements and sacrifices was clear to all and perhaps best summarised by his unofficial motto: “Look back to the rock from which ye were hewn.” They would have been proud of him too.

He is survived by his children, David and Katharine in Wyoming, and Robin in Edinburgh, and his five grandchildren, all in Wyoming