Colin Donald

Burrell Collection trustee


Colin Dunlop Donald, lawyer: born Strathaven, Lanarkshire 24 July 1934; partner, McGrigor Donald 1966-94; married 1961 Theresa Gilliland (two sons, one daughter); died Bruton, Somerset 13 October 2006.

When in 1997 the Director of Glasgow Museums, supported by Glasgow City Council, mounted a legal challenge to the terms of the will of one of their greatest benefactors, there was outrage among museum staff nationwide. Julian Spalding sought to lend out items from the Burrell Collection, contrary to the specified wishes of the collector and shipowner Sir William Burrell, who died in 1958. Neil MacGregor, Director of the National Gallery, among many others, deplored the challenge, but it was left to Colin Donald to fight it.

As senior trustee of Sir William Burrell's Trust, he probably knew more about the founder of the Burrell Collection's family and their wishes than any man alive. He also played a pivotal role in the affairs of Glasgow University and of the National Trust for Scotland.

In a larger context, he was, from 1990 to 2004, a most active director, and latterly deputy chairman, of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. Professor Sir Graeme Davies, currently Vice-Chancellor of London University but formerly Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool, a chief executive of the Universities Funding Council and of the Higher Education Funding Council and, from 1995 to 2003, Principal of Glasgow University, pays tribute to Donald's work in managing a pension scheme crucial to so many academics. With funds of £20bn, it is the fourth largest in Britain.

Colin Dunlop Donald was born in 1934 into an old legal family - though his father was a stockbroker - and went to Cargilfield School in Edinburgh, where he was subjected to the iron discipline of H.J. Kittermaster. By way of scholarships he progressed to Rugby School and then to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, reading Part One of the Classical Tripos and then Law.

In the interregnum between school and university he became a second lieutenant in the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) but to his disappointment was posted no further than Barnard Castle. He used to say wryly that his introduction to the law was defending Jocks who had had too much to drink in the local magistrates' court.

On graduation he joined the family law firm of McGrigor Donald - founded by another Colin Dunlop Donald, his great-great-grandfather, in the early 19th century (transmuting from C.D. Donald & Sons in 1871 to McGrigor Donald, and now simply McGrigors). There he gained a golden reputation as a caring family lawyer who was never too rushed or pressurised to make a client feel that they did not have his entire attention.

Donald's contribution to Scottish life was manifold. As senior trustee he was absolute in defence of the interests of Sir William Burrell's Trust. "The trustees," he wrote in a letter to The Independent in 1997,

have been obliged to oppose [the Spalding challenge] formally as we are of the view that we have a prescribed agenda to follow, which is to uphold the terms of the gift so meticulously set out by Sir William Burrell.

Anyway, he suggested,

The widened lending powers being sought will bring no benefit to the collection, although I suppose they might have a spin-off for Glasgow in tourism terms, but even that is arguable. The trustees have seen no evidence that Glasgow has "lost out" on any exhibitions because of the restrictions on lending items from the Burrell Collection abroad.

He spent 17 years on the Council of Glasgow University and impressed all who came in contact with him with his mastery of detail. Graeme Davies, like two other Glasgow Vice-Chancellors, Sir William Kerr Fraser and Sir Muir Russell, recollects Donald's vital if unromantic work for the Finance and General Purposes Committee of a university which faced so many difficult, messy and challenging problems.

An enthusiast for organisations that were concerned with the protection of nature, Donald was a private encourager of garden birds and the sworn enemy of the grey squirrel. But perhaps his greatest public contribution was his lifelong devotion to the business of the Scottish National Trust, of which he had been a member of council since 1974 and a Vice-President since 1996. In the 1990s he chaired a committee on the reorganisation of the trust's management, producing the Donald Report, which advocated more delegation of authority to the regions. He himself had been notably involved in the affairs of the Pollok Estate in Glasgow and, in 1989, persuaded the trust to take on Geilston Garden in Dunbartonshire.

His great friend Peter Wordie, himself a leading business figure in the West of Scotland, recalls particularly Donald's powers of persuasion - a man of subtle wit and obvious integrity, he was a great recruiter of people for good causes.

The current Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, Shonaig Macpherson, speaks of Colin Donald's kindness. In the week before he died, she says, he was "immersed in plans for the future of the trust".

Tam Dalyell

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