Gordon Hector

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THE facts of Gordon Hector’s life make for good telling. One of the last generation of colonial administrators, he had plenty of tales to tell, but it was not the facts but rather the quality of his life that made him stand out among the thousands who devoted their lives to serving their country in foreign lands.

His career had a certain predestination, for he was not only the son of a distinguished civil servant in India, where he initially grew up, but also a descendant of the great explorer Sir James Hector, whose name is to be found in the mountains and lakes of the Canadian Rockies and in the flora and fauna of New Zealand. It amused Gordon considerably that whereas his ancestor had landscapes and a dolphin named after him, he himself had the same honour in relation to a recently discovered but very small fish (seychellea hectori) in the Seychelles, courtesy of a visiting ichthyologist who wished to show his appreciation of Gordon’s assistance as Government Secretary.

Education at St Mary’s, Melrose, The Edinburgh Academy and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he gained an Honours History degree, would probably have led Gordon Hector straight into the Colonial Civil Service but the Second World War intervened and he found himself serving with The King’s African Rifles in East Africa and Burma. However, the experience of Africa, particularly Kenya, would be crucial to the rest of his career, indeed of his life, as the continent and the country in effect captured him and, as he said, "got into my blood".

After the war, therefore, and another year at Oxford, he joined the Colonial Service in 1946, as a District Officer, and later District Commissioner, in Kenya. The post was inevitably demanding and required diplomacy and imagination of a high order. Once, when delegated to reprimand some local cattle thieves and restore the beasts to their rightful owners, he told them that God would show His displeasure by putting blood on the Moon the following night - a strategy entirely dependent on an impending total eclipse and a clear night. It worked, and the cattle were returned.

After Kenya, there was secondment to the Seychelles from 1952 to 1956, latterly as Assistant Governor. It was during that tour of duty that he married Dr Mary Gray a pathologist from Aberdeen. It was a perfect match. Then it was back to Africa and Basutoland where Gordon would accomplish his most important work in helping that country in the ten years up to the achievement of independence as Lesotho. As Government Secretary, Chief Secretary and latterly deputy British Government Representative, his efforts found their reward not only in the progress of that undertaking but in the lasting friendships and respect that he acquired in the process. Formal recognition came in being made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and, later, a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Retirement from the service in 1966 was no more than a change of career as he returned to his native Aberdeen and its university, serving as clerk to the University Court until 1976 and in other senior capacities until, moving to Edinburgh, he was appointed secretary to the Assembly Council of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1980, a post he held until genuine retirement in 1985.

Always prepared to work for the public good, he served on numerous bodies, including the Commonwealth Fund (of which he was a Fellow), the Council of the Victoria League, the St Andrew Society, Save the Children Fund, and the Aberdeen Scouts Association.

But if the facts are testimony to a life energetically spent in the service of others, they tell only part of the story. Gordon Hector was a tremendous enthusiast for all sorts of things - Scotland, rugby and railways being very high on the list. Railways were a passion that expressed itself not only in great journeys with his wife but in building the model variety and in campaigning to transform Ballater railway station into a museum showing its associations with royalty, a project whose fulfilment this year gave him enormous pleasure.

Central to his character and achievements, however, was his deep Christian faith. His keen sense of justice (he must have been one of the few public servants to speak up for the African National Congress while Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned), his insight and his humanity had a clear foundation that was obvious to anyone who knew him. Just as obvious was his tremendous sense of humour; who else would have founded the Royal Wajir Yacht Club in the totally waterless Kenyan wastes near the Ethiopian border, where the only ships were camels, the ships of the desert?

But most important to him was his family. Three children, two of them doctors like their mother and one the headmaster of one of Scotland’s most famous schools, and nine grandchildren, were his delight. Gordon Hector’s memorial and thanksgiving service was held recently in St Andrews, the town where he and Mary had spent his last years. During it, the Very Rev Robin Barbour spoke of Gordon’s great capacity for love - of Africa, Scotland, railways, rugby, the Kirk, family and friends. If he had any enemies, a most unlikely proposition, he would of course have loved them too.