Don­ald Mait­land GCMG, OBE

Bri­tish diplo­mat whose ex­per­tise proved in­valu­able in the Mid­dle East and at home

The Scotsman - - Obituaries -

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.

again it



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.

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