Donald Dewar 'returned to work too soon'

HE WAS known as the Father of the Nation, and was a close friend of the last prime minister. Now, on the eve of the tenth anniversary of Donald Dewar's death, Gordon Brown has revealed his concerns that Scotland's first First Minister felt pressured into going back to work too early after heart surgery, just two months before he died of a massive brain haemorrhage.

• Marion Dewar and Gordon Brown reveal their memories of Donald Dewar in a documentary about Scotland's first First Minister. Photograph: PA

Dewar, who had undergone surgery to repair a leaking heart valve in May 2000, took three months off to recover and returned to work at the Scottish Parliament in August of that year. He died after a fall on the steps of Bute House on 10 October. Brown told a BBC One Scotland documentary to be broadcast tomorrow he was concerned that Dewar went back to work too soon.

"I could see he was weakened by (the surgery], and he did return to work far earlier than he should have, and in a sense he felt pressured because of being First Minister and being the first First Minister, that to be out and away for so long, that wasn't acceptable, so he went back too quickly," said Brown.

Sam Galbraith, a former MSP and neurosurgeon who was another close friend of Dewar's, said that the First Minister pushed himself too hard in the months leading up to his death.

"He came back too soon, he just got into all the paperwork and working all hours, (he'd start] at six or seven in the morning and he'd be lucky if he'd get home before midnight."

Dewar's special adviser David Whitton told the documentary that while he didn't think Dewar had returned to work too early, he did try to do too much. "It was his choice to come back and he was off for three months," he said. "I think maybe though he did too much when he came back and maybe he should have taken it a bit easier."

In Scotland's First First Minister, Dewar's daughter also gives her first full interview about her shock and sadness at losing her father.

Marion Dewar, who now lives in Brussels and works for the European Commission, said Dewar's death came as a complete shock to his family, even though he had undergone surgery to repair a leaking heart valve earlier that year.

"Part of the sadness of my dad's death for me was that simply he was far too young," she said. "He was only 63. He appeared (after his heart surgery], albeit slowly, to recover. We didn't expect at all that he would die."

She also revealed that she thought her late father would have been proud of his legacy.

"It's only now, ten years on, that we can appreciate just how successful he was because he did what he wanted. He wanted to achieve a robust, durable parliament and he did, I think.It's survived all sorts of different shapes and views and I think he would have been very happy about that."

On the day he died, Dewar fell from the steps of his official Edinburgh residence, Bute House, after a morning Cabinet meeting, but continued to conduct meetings into the afternoon. Whitton said that Dewar had insisted on carrying on with his day as normal.

"Donald was sat in the car so I went to check if he was all right and he insisted he was. He said 'I'll be all right'. He had other meetings to go off to and away he went. He said no fuss. No fuss at all. He didn't want a doctor." Later on in the day, however, his condition deteriorated.

"I went into the office and he was lying on the couch, which was unusual, and clearly unwell, and I said 'Right, well, we're going to have to sort this out, get a doctor, do something,' and he again didn't want to. He said 'I'll be okay, I'll be fine, I don't want anything.' But he was clearly not well."

Whitton said that even when Dewar eventually agreed to go to hospital no-one realised the implications of his condition.

"Nobody knew in a couple of hours we'd be facing the prospect of Donald not recovering."

Whitton also described the press conference the next day, in which he announced Dewar's death to the country, as "probably the most difficult thing I've ever had to do".

Whitton, who was close to Dewar, said he had shed tears in the half hour before he faced the cameras. "(I] just found a wee quiet corner and basically broke down, I suppose. It was the full enormity of what had happened."

Marion Dewar also said she and her brother Ian were incredibly touched by the reaction of the crowds in Glasgow on the day of Dewar's funeral.

"I'll never forget leaving Glasgow Cathedral and people clapping as the hearse made its way from the cathedral," Marion said. "I'll never forget that. Of course, at the time you're fairly wrapped up in your own feelings, your own personal feelings, but of course we were aware that other people, many other people, were touched by his death and we just feel very touched."

She also says in the documentary that despite his stern, no-nonsense reputation, her father could often be very funny. "It's often said that he was dour, but actually at the same time he did have this extraordinary joie de vivre," she said. "He had a real zest for life actually. And he was extremely funny."

She added: "He really was one of the funniest people I've ever met and there's not many people who can say that about their dad. So now when I think back and remember dad, very often I find myself laughing out loud."