Obituary: Duncan James McKichan, solicitor and Canadian consul

Duncan McKichan: Solicitor and Canadian consul who was valued by all for his integrity and quiet courtesy
Duncan McKichan: Solicitor and Canadian consul who was valued by all for his integrity and quiet courtesy
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Born: 28 July, 1924. Died: 30 November, 2013, aged 89

DUNCAN McKichan was an exemplary lawyer yet, but for the interruption of war service, he might have been a scientist. Born in London of Scottish parents, his father being a regional director of the Post Office whose work took him to various locations, Duncan in 1942 had started working towards a biology degree at Downing College, Cambridge.

He was called up and joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and, as a lieutenant, served as a navigating officer on motor launches and motor torpedo boats. He was based first in the English Channel and then in Trincomalee, Ceylon, as it then was. He participated in the landings at Rangoon, fortunately just as the Japanese surrendered. The members of Duncan’s flotilla were possibly unique in the British services as they qualified for both the D-Day medal and the Burma Star.

Demobbed in 1946, Duncan decided to switch from science to law. He chose Scotland, where he had lived as a young boy at Garelochhead with four unmarried aunts after the early death of his mother. He had also enjoyed summer holidays there, learning to sail with his father and younger brother, Alasdair.

Duncan enrolled in the Bachelor of Law course at the University of Glasgow while starting his apprenticeship with Maclay Murray & Spens in Glasgow. Graduating and being admitted as a solicitor in 1950, his promotion to partner in Maclay Murray & Spens followed quickly in 1952. He retired in 1992 after 40 years unbroken service in one firm of solicitors – a rarity now, particularly in the legal profession.

Duncan was one of the first solicitors in Scotland to specialise in all aspects of property law: from large commercial developments to house sales, from planning applications to estate feus. He co-authored Drafting and Negotiating Commercial Leases in Scotland (1985 and 1993), which became required reading for all involved in commercial property transactions.

DJM, as he was known in the office and beyond, allied a sharp brain to a calm and steady manner. He was punctilious in dealing with detail and achieving the goals set by clients and himself. His quiet courtesy was unfailing, but determination was there as well as a welcoming smile. With Duncan, integrity was paramount and it was valued by all who came into contact with him.

Between 1983 and 1986 he served as Dean of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. Before and after those years he was an active member of the conveyancing committee of the Law Society of Scotland, contributing particularly to the introduction of registration of title to Scotland. He supported the International Bar Association, the largest international group of lawyers, by visiting many countries with his wife, Leila, and strengthening Scotland’s contribution to its vital work. Duncan was awarded the OBE in 1990 for his services to the legal profession.

For the last ten years of his career, he was the senior partner of Maclay Murray & Spens, which had by then expanded into Edinburgh, London and Brussels.

Away from the law, in 1983 he was appointed Honorary Consul for Canada in Glasgow with a territory that included the north of England and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland. For ten years, his commitment and diplomacy were unfailing – a heavy responsibility in view of the huge connection between Canada and Duncan’s territory.

The Church of Scotland in Helensburgh was fortunate to benefit from Duncan’s commercial acumen and patient consistency, as an elder for over 50 years and as session clerk and chairman of the finance committee of the West Kirk, which was unified with St Columba’s to form St Andrew’s Kirk in 2011.

Asked his opinion on a matter, the Minister, the Rev David Clark recalled that he and others present could tell from the intonation of Duncan’s “Well…” whether he approved or disapproved of a proposal. That same intonation was evident within Duncan’s legal practice. A “well” – particularly an extended one – was invariably an implicit suggestion, delivered with Duncan’s unfailing courtesy, that the colleague in question might wish to reflect further on the proposed advice or draft document.

As a governor of St Bride’s Girls School in Helensburgh, Duncan helped to create the larger Lomond School in 1977 through the amalgamation of St Bride’s with Larchfield Boys Preparatory School. He continued to contribute to the management of the new school in its early years.

He was happiest at home in the house and garden, which he and Leila, whom he married in 1959, had planned and created in Helensburgh. For over 50 years there has always been a happy, welcoming air at their house, shared in earlier times by their two daughters, Susan and Alison.

Though small in stature, Duncan was a strong swimmer, being in the school team at Solihull. He continued to enjoy swimming regularly in Helensburgh at the local pool until his last two years.

For many years with his love of sailing, the entire family cruised on the west coast of Scotland on the family yachts, Tringa and Tiota.

A year or so before his death, Duncan achieved a long cherished ambition of setting foot on the island of St Kilda. It was fitting therefore that at his funeral service that the congregation was invited to reflect on memories of Duncan while Peter Maxwell Davies’ Farewell to Stromness was played on the piano.

In the winter, the family went skiing in Scotland and abroad, so it was never all work and no play.

Perhaps surprisingly for such a quiet, modest man, Duncan was fascinated by the theatre and enjoyed the limelight with local drama societies for many years. He was a loyal supporter with Leila of the Edinburgh Festival, attending performances there from its beginnings in 1947 right through until 2011.

Highly respected in his profession, Duncan’s service, kindness and concern for others was truly exceptional. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word.

He is survived by his wife, Leila, his daughters, Sue and Ali and his brother, Alasdair who lives in Canada. Alasdair gave a very moving tribute to Duncan at his funeral service at St Andrew’s Kirk, Helensburgh on 6 December, 2013, before Duncan was buried at Faslane Cemetery.