Sir Edward Peck

Diplomat, conservationist and author

Born: 5 October, 1915, in Sussex.

Died: 24 July, 2009, in Tomintoul, Banffshire, aged. 93.

FROM his schooldays Edward Peck was involved in political hotspots. In his youth he witnessed Hitler's triumphant arrival into Vienna after the Anschluss and a few months later watched General Franco's troops march into Barcelona. Thereafter Peck worked in intelligence and during the war was stationed in Turkey, then served in various senior diplomatic posts in Africa and for Nato. His quiet and gracious manner often helped create an area of understanding in confrontational situations.

On his retirement in 1975 he and his wife converted a steading at Tomintoul which they called their "mountain retreat" and much enjoyed walking the hills and skiing. Peck wrote two well-received guidebooks about the area and a booklet on the 16th-century battle of Glenlivet. He maintained a delightful sense of humour throughout his life, even during the most fraught political discussions. He described the art of a diplomat as, "honest men sent to lie for their masters".

Edward Heywood Peck, the son of a doctor in the Indian medical service, attended Clifton College in Bristol. The family spent many holidays in Switzerland, which laid the foundations of Peck's lifelong passion for mountaineering. In 1934 he went up to Queen's College, Oxford and gained firsts in German and French. It was then that Peck visited Vienna and after joining the consular service in the same year was posted to Spain. The two displays of overt Fascism left a marked impression on him and throughout the war he worked to combat its evils.

His first major posting was to Istanbul – always a hotbed of intelligence and spies. He served as private secretary to the ambassador and Peck's balanced opinions were much needed in smoothing over some precarious diplomatic situations. In 1945 he occupied two difficult posts – in Salonika and on the south-east Asia desk at the Foreign Office – before being appointed, in 1965, high commissioner to Kenya. The cool manner Peck in which filled these exacting posts greatly enhanced his growing reputation within the service.

He spent two years as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in London before, in 1970, becoming the UK's representative to Nato in Brussels, where he often dealt with the US delegate, a young Donald Rumsfeld. It was a time of much political change with the Cold War slowly ending. Peck did much to normalise relations with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries: his skills were as much in evidence with former foes as with allies.

In his retirement he converted the steading – Easter Torrans at Tomintoul – and was active throughout the community, indeed, with his wife he initiated the local Avonside Conservation group and, in particular, served on committees connected with the National Trust for Scotland and the Cairngorms Campaign (CC). The latter, which tries to prevent unsustainable and damaging developments in the area, Peck particularly supported.

Drennan Watson of CC said:. "Ted's love affair with mountains took him to the Himalayas and the Alps but, of course, living on the eastern flanks of the Cairngorms, he took a particular interest in them.

"He was a member of the management committee and a director of the Cairngorms Campaign. His main influence was to bring to bear the clarity of thinking and the tact of the experienced diplomat. 'What are we trying to achieve here?' I remember him saying on occasions, when discussion had got rather confused."

Peck also wrote some informed guidebooks of the area – North East Scotland from the Tay to Aberdeen sold particularly well, and his Battle of Glenlivet told the story of how 2,000 local men routed 10,000 Highlanders in 1594.

He proved an excellent spokesman for the North-east on radio and was interviewed by Jimmy MacGregor when he hosted a television programme in Glenlivet.

Drennan Watson recalls that, "despite the many serious international problems Ted dealt with, he never lost his gentle sense of humour and his quiet chuckle. 'That was very tactful of you, Ted', said a teasing voice at a CC meeting, after one of his interventions, 'You should have been a diplomat or something.' At which Ted collapsed in giggles. He was a modest man and a fine listener and is remembered with respect and affection."

Peck was made a GCMG in 1974, a Knight Grand Cross in the Order of St Michael and St George, and acted as a visiting professor at Aberdeen University.

Sir Edward Peck married Alison MacInnes, also a keen hill walker and lover of the Cairngorms, in 1948. She died earlier this year and he is survived by two daughters and a son. Another daughter died in her youth.