Obituary: Sir Nick Larmour

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NICK LARMOUR'S career as a diplomat took him across the world, from Burma to Jamaica via the Antipodes, and always back to his home at the edge of Highgate Woods in London.

He was born Edward Noel Larmour in 1916 in Belfast - where he also died, unexpectedly, on a visit to his sister. His father, then serving in France, was later sports editor of the Belfast Newsletter. Educated on both sides of the Border, "Nick" Larmour rejected all partisan attitudes to the Northern Ireland situation. Before Bloody Sunday, he would sing "The Sash" and "The Wearing of the Green" with equal gusto; since then, he could only look on with distress and hope that ultimately the province would find its own solution.

From the Royal Belfast Academical Institution he went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he took the top First in Classics. As Captain of Cricket (he once playing for Ireland against Australia) he received an injury which left him virtually blind in one eye. Becoming engaged to a younger fellow student, Nancy Bill, he had applied in 1939 for the Indian Civil Service as a post-war option, but meanwhile joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Late in 1940, however, he was withdrawn by the ICS for a year's training at Sydney University. He did not see Nancy again for five years.

Early in 1942, although the Japanese had already invaded Burma, he and three Burmese fellow cadets were flown in to be welcomed at the Governor's temporary headquarters north of Mandalay. Next morning, the house was strangely quiet; the Governor and his whole staff had been evacuated in the plane which had brought the cadets. The three colleagues dispersed to their families, Larmour saw no option but to assist other refugees to walk the 200 miles across the mountains to India, ahead of the Japanese. He arrived a month later and 30lb lighter.

As the Burma authorities, relocated to India, were unable to redeploy him, he joined the Indian Army and finally achieved his aim of managing a district as a military administrator in reoccupied Burma.

Demobbed in 1946, he came home to marry Nancy and returned with her to Rangoon, where, as Deputy Secretary to a government on the verge of independence, he was in the next room when Aung San, the effective Prime Minister, and most of his cabinet were assassinated. Leaving Burma in 1948, he joined the Commonwealth Relations Office, a post-war amalgamation of the Dominions and India Offices which undertook the diplomatic role in the independent Commonwealth. The Foreign Office had dominated the diplomatic stage for so long that the CRO was seen as a junior partner. It did however have a unique advantage at the time, in that genuinely close relationships were easy to sustain at official level between the UK and other Commonwealth governments.

Commonwealth officials could be suspicious of the traditional smooth-talking, Oxbridge-educated, hyper- intellectual type of British diplomat, but Larmour did not fit that mould. With his Irish background, his unassuming, straightforward approach and his obvious enjoyment of other people's company and customs, he was instantly acceptable in his varied overseas posts: New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Nigeria (as Deputy High Commissioner) and Jamaica, where he was High Commissioner (and Ambassador to Haiti) from 1970 to 1973.

Official contacts soon realised that behind his modest and affable manner was an immensely sharp mind. He would tease out the answer to a contentious problem and give it taut, accurate expression on paper, but it was against his principles to force a solution on others. He was a firm, patient negotiator, who took endless pains to make sure that all parties clearly understood each other's point of view. Northern Ireland and Burma had made him wary of authority imposed from without: his sympathies were with the emerging independent Commonwealth, whose problems he understood, and he fully supported the process of decolonisation.

In his final years at the FCO, he acted as non-resident High Commissioner for the New Hebrides and lastly as Deputy Under-Secretary (Dependent Territories), facilitating the final moves towards independence of the former Anglo- French condominium and several other former colonies (including the Solomon Islands, where by coincidence his son Peter, who now lectures in Canberra, earned appointment as MBE for his work on land law).

Nick Larmour was knighted (KCMG) on retirement in 1977 and continued to be involved as a member of the Price Commission, as Chairman of the Constituency Boundaries Commission for Bermuda, and as a Chairman Assessor for Police and Civil Service Selection Boards. He also ran courses for the Royal Institute of Public Administration and, as Secretary of the Indian Civil Service (Retired) Association worked devotedly to maintain links between former colleagues and to see their memoirs recorded.

Larmour refused to be defined by his official role or to take refuge behind the trappings. Arrogant, pompous behaviour he particularly despised, and any form of hypocrisy. His staff were left in no doubt that devious excuses or shoddy work would not be tolerated but that they could otherwise count on his total support. He fostered equal opportunities long before it was fashionable to take women's advancement seriously, and he well understood the pressures of overseas service on personal and family life. His humane concern inspired loyalty and led to lifelong, world-wide friendships.

In the last few years, following a serious operation, he had fewer outside involvements but was as cheerful and meticulous as ever in organising his personal affairs and his share of domestic duties. He gave his wife constant encouragement in her work and support at home; they enjoyed a happy marriage and exceptional companionship which they shared with their three children, Peter, Eleanor and Brigid, and generously with their many friends.

Brigid Wells

Edward Noel ("Nick") Larmour, diplomat: born Belfast 25 December 1916; Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Commonwealth Relations Office 1964; British Minister and Deputy High Commissioner, Nigeria 1964-68; CMG 1966, KCMG 1977; Deputy Chief of Administration, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1968-70, Assistant Under-Secretary of State 1973-75, Deputy Under-Secretary of State 1975-76; High Commissioner, Jamaica, and non-resident ambassador, Haiti 1970-73; High Commissioner (non-resident) for New Hebrides 1973- 76; married 1946 Nancy Bill (one son, two daughters); died Belfast 21 August 1999.