Richard Scott: Journalist and Scott Trust chairman

 

Being born into a powerful dynasty, with the expectation that you will eventually rise effortlessly within it, can be a mixed blessing.

Richard Scott, grandson of the legendary Guardian editor and proprietor CP Scott ("Comment is free but facts are sacred") made the most of his privileged inheritance and was able to play a role in preserving the newspaper as an independent liberal voice. In 1966, when both The Guardian and The Times were in dire financial straits, Richard's cousin Laurence Scott, chairman of The Guardian, conceived a plan to merge the two titles, in part to thwart Roy Thomson's ultimately successful bid to acquire The Times. There was strong opposition to this within The Guardian, spearheaded by the editor, Alastair Hetherington, who would have lost his job had the merger taken place.

Richard Scott, then the Guardian's Washington correspondent, was also chairman of the Scott Trust, charged with safeguarding the paper's heritage. He gave Hetherington his wholehearted support and eventually Laurence abandoned his plan, soon forfeiting much of his power within the company. Although it is doubtful whether the merger would have happened even if Laurence had pursued it – there were strong reservations at The Times as well – Richard's stand earned the gratitude of colleagues and secured him a reputation as the paper's saviour.

He articulated his view of the Trust's mission a few months later, when he declared that the Guardian "is not in business for the sake of business; that we are not an ordinary commercial firm animated by normal commercial motives; that the company has to be commercially viable, not in order to make profits, but so that we may continue to publish The Guardian".

Born in 1914, educated at Gresham's School in Norfolk and Christ's College, Cambridge, Scott experienced tragedy in 1932 when he saw his father, Ted Scott, drown in a boating accident on Lake Windermere after he himself had swum to safety. Ted had become editor of The Guardian (then The Manchester Guardian) three years earlier, when CP Scott was eventually persuaded to retire after 58 years in the post.

After Cambridge, Richard did not immediately join the family enterprise but took on a variety of roles, including stints at the British Council and the Foreign Office, until he was appointed the Manchester Guardian's diplomatic correspondent in 1947. He was made chairman of the Trust in 1956, the year Hetherington was appointed editor, and the two men quickly became allies.

His first marriage broke down soon after he moved to Washington in 1963. There he and his second wife, Anna Walmsley, set themselves up in grand style, in a house in Georgetown with an indoor fountain and a floodlit garden where influential guests, including many of Washington's power élite, would sip cocktails and watch the flickering fireflies. Confident but unassertive, Scott was popular in the American capital. He and Anna, a consummate cook and hostess and a talented artist and potter, entertained frequently and generously, sometimes inviting visiting Guardian journalists and executives to stay with them in Georgetown or at their weekend retreat in Maryland. "I regarded him as more of a diplomat than a proper reporter," says a former colleague.

His strength as a correspondent was in analysis and opinion rather than in the nitty-gritty of news gathering, and he savoured the freedom of comment over the more demanding discipline of facts. The paper's foreign news desk in London would be frustrated by his reluctance to provide fast copy on the day's developing stories; yet his position on the Trust deterred them from remonstrating with him too severely. Moreover he had a fraught relationship with Alistair Cooke, the paper's New York correspondent, whom others also found hard to deal with.

Scott left Washington in 1971 for a three-year assignment as Paris correspondent before giving up active journalism on turning 60, when he bought a vineyard near Limoux in southern France. He remained chairman of the Trust until 1984, and frequent business trips caused strains in his marriage: Anna told friends she felt trapped, looking after the vineyard while he went back and forth to London.

When they divorced he stayed in France, where he married a local woman, Christiane. She and Anna survive him, as does Tamara, the daughter from his second marriage.

Richard Farquhar Scott, journalist: born Norfolk 16 May 1914; married firstly Ruth (marriage dissolved; one son, deceased), secondly Anna Walmsley (marriage dissolved; one daughter), thirdly Christiane; chairman, Scott Trust 1956-84; died 11 November 2011.

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