Monday, July 28, 2008

Russell

Russell Johnston was a civilised man. He embodied a certain courtly Highlander tradition that is the antithesis of the provincial. His interests were many and each of these he pursued with a passion. Those who only knew his honeyed Highland cadences could be caught out, for Russell did not tolerate fools too well and his peppery comments could be as acerbic as they were funny- delivered in words of one syllable, yet still in his beautiful Skye accent.

In many ways Russell was a visionary, famously well travelled, he could also be the source of surprising and detailed arcane knowledge. He was at his best, perhaps, in discussion after a good meal, clutching the inevitable glass of Scotland's wine. His passionate belief in the value of the European Union is not today a popular cause, but as the years passed he grew even more convinced of what he termed "the necessity of Europe". He grew yet more convinced of this after he became involved in the crisis surrounding the breakdown of Yugoslavia. He became an astute and -as ever- pithy observer of the protagonists, several of whom he grew to know well. He thus became a trusted advisor to Paddy Ashdown in his own journey though the Yugoslav Calvary.

Above all Russell was an often generous and loyal man. His commitment to Liberalism was absolute, but his charm made him many friends across the political spectrum- except perhaps Left wingers, who he famously had many runs-in with. A Liberal, He believed, was one who put humanity well above the demands of mere ideology. He would not accept conventional wisdom simply for the sake of it, and he was always determined to plough his own furrow- even if that could sometimes place him at a disadvantage.

Although the joke was "Russell's in Brussels", he nevertheless served his constituency with distinction until his retirement. His delight in Scotland would always bring him back to his beloved Highlands. Though in later years he encountered much sadness, he remained a popular figure, viewed with great affection across the Highlands, across Scotland and Europe as a whole.

A true original- he will indeed be much missed.

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