Donald Maitland GCMG, OBE
British diplomat whose expertise proved invaluable in the Middle East and at home
donald Maitland gCMg, OBE, diplomat and arab specialist. Born. 16 august, 1922, in Edinburgh. died: 22 august 2010, in Somerset, aged 88.
DonalD Maitland, throughout a prominent career as a diplomat and public servant, proved a dogged and determined fighter even when confronted with some challenging situations.
He was fearless in his dealings with senior politicians and arab rulers – often finding the right phrase to diffuse a fraught situation. Typical of this intrepid diplomat was his experience in libya.
The day he arrived there as ambassador in 1969 he discovered the royal family had been deposed and that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had seized power.
at an early meeting with the colonel, Maitland paused during a reply and calmly pushed away an automatic weapon pointed at his stomach.
Maitland was to demonstrate such acts of resolute bravery on many occasions in his career.
Donald James Dundas Maitland’s father was a government botanist in Uganda and he was educated at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh. He was a keen sportsman especially shooting, cricket
– and tennis – and left in 1939. He remained a strong supporter of the school, attending the Remembrance Day Service last year, and was an active patron of its Family Foundation.
He also wrote a charming book ( Edinburgh, Seat of Learning) about his education at Watson’s and at Edinburgh University, where he read modern languages.
He joined the Royal Scots in 1941 and served with the 6th Rajputana Rifles in India, the Middle East and Burma. In 1947 Maitland joined the Foreign Service, adding to his European languages by learning arabic.
His first postings were to Iraq, Baghdad and Beirut. During the last appointment he was director of the School of arabic Studies during the tempestuous weeks of the Suez Crisis. Maitland remained in the post for three years, rebuilding the school’s reputation and greatly improving relationships throughout the Middle East.
In 1960 he returned to london to work with Edward Heath on the negotiations for the entry to the Common Market. Throughout the protracted negotiations in Brussels Maitland preserved a deep understanding of the many complexities and a sense of humour that helped to lighten many all night sessions.
after President de Gaulle gave a resounding “non” to the UK application Maitland was sent to Cairo. Maitland returned to the Foreign office in 1965 to work with two very different labour Foreign Secretaries: the mercurial George Brown and the rather dry and deliberate Michael Stewart.
again he displayed his sangfroid when Brown harangued Maitland – a slight and diminutive figure – over some matter.
“Foreign Secretary,” Maitland calmly replied, “you don’t think somebody my size has got where I’ve got by kow-towing to bully- boys, do you?” Their relationship was never easy.
In libya, Maitland was confronted with political minefields. He had to preserve good relations – political and financial – with the new regime and try to enhance the UK’s oil prospects.
His linguistic abilities allied to his deep understanding of arabic traditions and customs ensured Maitland helped cement relationships.
But in 1970 Heath, now prime minister, wanted Maitland back in london as his press secretary. Heath came to rely on Maitland’s wise judgment on such thorny subjects as industrial relations during the three-day week and northern Ireland.
Finally, Maitland was seconded to oversee the final days of the negotiations – this time successful – to join the EEC in 1973. Maitland was rewarded for his patient deliberations with the post of ambassador to the United nations.
minefield as the Yom Kippur war broke out followed by a tense situation with Spain over the sovereignty of Gibraltar.
Such was his reputation Maitland was recalled in 1979 to the Foreign office to assist with the mounting crises after the ayatollah’s rise to power in Iran and the Soviet invasion of afghanistan.
His last few years were spent as ambassador to the European Commission when the UK renegotiated its terms of membership and as Margaret Thatcher’s permanent secretary at the Department of Energy.
The latter called on his skills as a negotiator and of his knowledge of the Middle East and the oil industry.
In retirement Maitland remained active both in industry and other fields.
He became a government director of the Glasgow-based Britoil, deputy chairman of the Independent Broadcasting authority, chairman of the Health Education authority and of the Christians for Europe.
The last appointment was connected with the University of Bath where he lectured and retired to a village nearby.
Maitland was one of the most able and accomplished public servants of his generation.
His intellectual capacities were considerable – a superb linguist, a sharp and formidable mind and a proven ability to present a case in a tough and reasoned manner. Donald Maitland was appointed a GCMG in 1977.
He married, Young, with had a son and in 1950, Jean whom he a daughter.