Obituary: Roland Hunt

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The Independent Culture
ROLAND HUNT was appointed as High Commissioner to Uganda in 1965. There, involuntarily but inevitably, he became involved in the power struggle between the new President, Milton Obote, and the Kabaka of Buganda, "King Freddie", who appealed to him for British help before his deposition and exile in 1966.

The following year, as a result of the deteriorating security situation, Hunt issued public advice to British subjects to avoid certain roads which were subject to roadblocks and attacks by undisciplined units of the Ugandan Army. Obote chose to regard this as interference in Uganda's internal affairs and, to avoid the risk of Hunt's being declared persona non grata, on the advice of the Minister of State, Judith Hart, he was withdrawn from the post.

He was involved in a further newsworthy event the following year when, as Assistant Under-Secretary of State with responsibilities for the Caribbean, he accompanied William Whitlock, a junior FCO Minister, to the island of Anguilla where its leader, Ronald Webster, was trying to establish its independence from the associated state of St Kitts-Nevis. After a fruitless negotiation to restore legality, and in the absence of any British security protection, the British team was forced to withdraw in some disorder. Hunt looked back on the incident with considerable amusement, pointing out that none of his experiences, there or in Uganda, would have surprised the Greeks.

Sadly, however, bad luck continued to dog him when what turned out to be his final diplomatic appointment, in 1970, as High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago was brought to an untimely end by his seriously breaking his leg on the golf course. This involved his being brought home for major surgery and led to his early retirement from the service, though he went on to become British Secretary of the International Chamber of Commerce from 1973 until 1976.

Hunt was born in Highgate, north London, in 1916. He won a Classics scholarship from Rugby and, after coming down from Queen's College, Oxford, took the exams for entry to the Indian Civil Service in 1938. His success in them resulted in a further year at Oxford doing a government-sponsored course on Empire Studies, during which time he married Pauline Garnett.

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Hunt volunteered to join the Army, but was firmly told that his membership of the ICS had priority, and shortly afterwards he was despatched to Madras. As a newly arrived sub-collector in an up-country district he was not expected to be married, but with characteristic initiative Pauline soon managed to join him and their first two sons were born in India.

At Independence in 1947 the Hunts returned to London. In 1948 Roland joined the Commonwealth Relations Office and was immediately returned to the subcontinent as a Third Secretary on the staff of the British High Commissioner in Pakistan. Between 1950 and 1952 he was based in Whitehall, dealing with East African security matters, in the course of which he spent some time in Nairobi as a member of the UK team at the African Defence Facilities Conference. In 1952 he was promoted to be Political Secretary in the High Commission in South Africa, where with his previous defence experience he was appropriately involved in the negotiations for the Simonstown Agreement.

In 1956, on promotion to Counsellor, he was appointed as "John the Baptist" and Deputy High Commissioner designate to prepare the way for the setting up of the new High Commission in Kuala Lumpur prior to Malaya becoming independent in 1957. There he established a close working relationship with the founding Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Hunt's son Julian tells the story that when Benjamin Britten's entry to the international competition for Malaya's national anthem was received, the Tunku zoomed round with outriders to Hunt's home, where he had to be roused from a sickbed. After Hunt had played the proposed anthem on the piano, they both agreed that it would not do. So they tentatively proposed some modifications and returned the entry to Britten, who was, predictably, not amused. Nothing more was heard from him, and in the end a local dance tune, suitably slowed down, was chosen.

With the ending of the emergency in Malaya, Hunt visited South Vietnam to study and advise on the insurgency problem there. He returned to London in 1960 to attend the Imperial Defence College course, and in 1962 was posted back to Pakistan as Deputy High Commissioner, before being appointed High Commissioner in Uganda in 1965.

Roland Hunt's life was enormously enriched by his love of music, and he gave great pleasure to others as well as to himself through his gifted piano-playing. He had a close-knit family in which, until her death from cancer in 1989, he was powerfully supported by Pauline. She was probably more ambitious for him than he was for himself, and made no secret of her disappointment when his premature retirement deprived him of the knighthood he would probably otherwise have been awarded. Roland himself, on the other hand, had a deeply philosophical approach to events and, even after suffering a stroke which seriously impaired his speech and his piano-playing, was prepared to treat life's ups and downs with tolerant amusement.

Roland Charles Colin Hunt, diplomat: born London 19 March 1916; Deputy High Commissioner in the Federation of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 1957-59; Assistant Secretary, Commonwealth Relations Office 1961; British Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan 1962-65; CMG 1965; British High Commissioner in Uganda 1965-67; Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Commonwealth Office/Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1967-70; High Commissioner, Trinidad and Tobago 1970-73; Director, British National Committee, International Chamber of Commerce 1973-76; married 1939 Pauline Garnett (died 1989; three sons, two daughters); died Reading, Berkshire 24 March 1999.