Scotsman obituaries: Jeremy Burnet, Scottish accountant and fundraiser

Jeremy Burnet CA, chartered accountant. Born: 24 February 1938 in Edinburgh. Died: 15 April 2021 in Edinburgh, aged 83

Jeremy and his wife Jen off the Isle of Lewis in 1995

Jeremy Burnet was a prominent Scottish chartered accountant, a director and chairman of a leading business charity and honorary treasurer of two of the world’s oldest golf clubs.

He was a director of the Scottish Business Achievement Award Trust for 15 years and for ten of these, from 1995 to 2005, he was its chairman. During that decade the Trust raised some £1.7 million for Scottish charities through its annual lunches and in a typical year up to 60 charities would benefit, with awards ranging from £1,000 to £5,000.

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Jeremy took particular pride in attracting business leaders to these lunches by arranging notable and unusual venues for them, which included the QE2, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Prestonfield Hotel, Ibrox Stadium, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum.

Jeremy Morton Burnet (known to many simply as J) was born in Edinburgh in 1938, the oldest of three children of Eric Burnet, a chartered accountant, and his wife Lorna. Eric was the son of a Crieff doctor and had been a noted Speedway rider in the early development of that sport in Scotland in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Jeremy entered the Edinburgh Academy in the first primary year and stayed there throughout his primary and secondary schooling. Although hard working he is reported to have been a late developer, only reaching his full potential after leaving school.

On leaving school in 1956 Jeremy was enlisted in the Royal Scots to undertake his two years of National Service. He was based at the Glencorse Barracks in Midlothian. This was at the time of the Suez crisis and there was a prospect of his being posted there on active service, but the emergency was resolved before that became necessary.

He enjoyed his period of army service and by the time of his discharge had been promoted to NCO. On his discharge he returned to Edinburgh and entered into an apprenticeship with the Edinburgh chartered accountants Graham Smart and Annan. As was the custom in those days, his apprenticeship ran for five years, starting with a period of two years in the office, followed by a year’s study at Edinburgh University and finishing with a further two years in the office. He qualified as a chartered accountant in 1963 with distinction, being the winner of the ICAS (CA Institute’s) gold medal, an achievement which he treasured. After qualifying he went south to London and worked there for six years as an audit manager with Thomson McLintock.

At this stage came probably the most important event in Jeremy’s life. On 13 September 1963 he met Jennifer Ness, the one and only great love of his life. Jeremy and Jen became engaged a few weeks later, were married in Edinburgh the following March and set up home in London. They suffered the great sadness of a baby, David, dying at birth, but in 1968 they adopted a son, Edward (always called Ned) and in 1971 a second son, Stephen.

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They returned to Edinburgh in 1969, when Jeremy was assumed as a partner in Graham Smart & Annan, and he spent the remainder of his career in that firm and its successors, latterly PwC, retiring as a senior audit partner in 1995. He took a particular interest in the regulation of the profession, having been a long-time member, and distinguished and effective convener, of the ICAS Audit Registration Committee, responsible for “chasing the bad boys in the profession” as he put it.

Jeremy and his siblings maintained the family’s sporting tradition set by their father. His younger brother, Pat, excelled on the rugby field as a centre three-quarter, playing for Oxford University and the Edinburgh Academicals, and was capped for Scotland in their match against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in April 1960.

Their sister, Woozy, was a low handicap golfer and past winner of the Highland Open at Pitlochry. Jeremy’s great hobby was also golf. He was a member of Bruntsfield Golf Club, founded in 1761, from an early age and in 1975 he was admitted to Muirfield, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which dates from 1744.

As a prominent accountant he was also a target for committee membership and he served as Treasurer of the Bruntsfield club from 1973 to 1988 and of the Honourable Company from 1990 to 2004, a period which covered the Open Championship, held at Muirfield in 1992 and again in 2002.

In the early 1980s Jeremy and Jen purchased a cottage in the small settlement of Dunfallandy, near Pitlochry, and it was there that they spent many of their happiest times, with family and friends, Jeremy a member of the Pitlochry Golf Club. Notable family holidays were also spent in Devon and Cornwall, at Menaggio in the Italian lakes and with their close friends, the Ramsays, at their cottage in Brittany.

It was a devastating blow to Jeremy when Jen died in 2009. He was also predeceased by their son Ned, but is survived by their younger son Stephy, who is a digital financial services professional, Stephy’s wife Mo and their children Toby, Hannah and Rebecca. His nephew Neil had been orphaned in 1996 on the death of Jeremy’s sister Woozy, and the earlier death of her husband, but in their typically caring and sensitive way Jeremy and Jen took on responsibility for Neil’s upbringing and he became effectively a third son to them.

Jeremy’s son Stephy summed up his Dad as follows: “He will be remembered by everyone who knew him as a kind and gentle man. He showed a keen interest in many people’s lives. He was a brave man who suffered a lot of blows of family and friends passing away but he never considered himself unlucky. He loved people and people loved him”.

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