Sir Ewen Fergusson



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OURFC are saddened to learn of the death of former Oxford rugby Blue Sir Ewen Fergusson, who  died aged 84 on the 20th April. The Obituary below is taken from the Herald Scotland newspaper.

Sir Ewen Fergusson, who has died aged 84, was a senior British career diplomat and former Scotland rugby international player who played five times for the national side in 1954. As a diplomat, he will possibly be remembered most as Britain’s first permanent representative to what was then the European Community, later to become the European Union. If Prime Minister Edward Heath was Britain’s bridegroom at the nation’s wedding to Europe in 1973, Ewen Fergusson was the best man. Who would have imagined then that the UK would file for divorce from Europe more than 40 years later?

Sir Ewen, from an old Scots family, also served as Principal Private Secretary to Labour Foreign Secretaries James Callaghan, Anthony Crosland and David Owen, as British ambassador to South Africa from 1982-84 and as ambassador to France from 1987-92. He was in a room in his Paris embassy with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on November 20, 1990, when she received a message from London saying she had failed to win outright her parliamentary party’s first ballot over her continuation as prime minister. She was forced to resign two days later, with John Major taking over. Once described as a larger-than-life diplomat, Sir Ewen was said, during his time in Paris, to have become personal friends with every top chef in the city, something he demonstrated on several occasions to the visiting Mrs Thatcher.

He was knighted in 1987, was made a GCVO (Knight Grand Cross, Royal Victorian Order) in 1992, which was followed by GCMG (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George) in 1993. France made him a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour for his work there as British ambassador. Later in life, he served on many boards of companies or charities. He was chairman of Coutts Bank from 1993-99, chairman of the Savoy Hotel group (1994-98), chairman of the governors of his old school, Rugby, (1995-2002) and a trustee of the National Gallery in London (also 1995-2002).

Ewen Alistair John Fergusson was born on October 28, 1932, in Singapore, the son of Coatbridge-born Sir Ewen MacGregor Field Fergusson, chairman and managing director of the Straits Trading Company in Singapore, and his wife Winifred Evelyn Fergusson. Young Ewen was educated at the famous Rugby School in Warwickshire and later at Oriel College, Oxford, where he gained an MA, played lock for the university rugby team and attracted the attention of the Scotland rugby selectors. He was later made an honorary fellow of Oriel College and in 1995 was awarded an honorary LLD (Doctorate of Laws) from Aberdeen University.

On January 9, 1954, he made his Scotland test debut as lock at Murrayfield, losing 0-3 to France in front of 60,000 spectators. His fifth and final appearance for the national side was against Wales in Swansea on April 10 of that year, losing 3-15 to a side driven by the great fly-half Cliff Morgan.

During his two years’ national service with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps from 1954-56. Sir Ewen was involved -“thankfully at a distance,” he said – in the Suez crisis. “During the later part of my national service the crisis over Suez blew up and although my own regiment wasn’t directly involved elements of it were involved in the planning for Suez,” he recalled. “I’d been born in Singapore and always envisaged having a career which took me around the world. When I was 17 or thereabouts I read a book by Fitzroy Maclean – Eastern Approaches – which made me think of the combination of glamour and excitement which would come in the Foreign Service … it was also a useful protection against pressure from my regiment to think of making a career in the regular armed forces. I joined the Foreign Office just at the time when the landing craft were midway between Cyprus and Suez.”

Sir Ewen entered the British diplomatic service in 1956 as Assistant Private Secretary to the Minister of Defence before being appointed as a junior diplomat in the British embassy in Addis Ababa. A gifted linguist, he quickly learned the Amharic language. In 1959, he married Sara Carolyn Gordon-Lennox, daughter of a Scots Guards colonel twice wounded in the First World War and widow of Scottish baronet Sir William Montgomery-Cuninghame, a Second World War hero. The couple would go on to have three children – Anna, Ewen and Iona.

As ambassador to South Africa, still under the apartheid régime, he had the delicate task of publicly opposing the racist government while privately protecting Britain’s political, trade and geographical interests, which had long been based on cooperation with that same white-led regime.

While we now recognise the apartheid regime as a blight on the 20th century, he, of course, was just doing his job. He found himself caught in the middle among the South African regime, its intelligence agents, British intelligence agents and the British government – all of whom were trying to probe the strength of the anti-apartheid movement, notably in London, which would eventually see the apartheid regime extinguished and a political prisoner called Nelson Mandela released.

Sir Ewen is survived by his wife Sara, daughters Anna and Iona and son Ewen, a law firm partner who was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club at Oxford along with David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne. Ewen Jr appeared with these fellow students in a famous photograph in which “the Buller Boys” are wearing bespoke navy blue tailcoats, mustard-coloured waistcoats and sky blue bow ties. In the club’s posh boy tradition of “trashing things for a laugh,” Ewen Jr was once said to have thrown a plant pot through a restaurant window. His father was said to have been less than amused.


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