Sir Donald Hawley: Distinguished diplomat and writer

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The Independent Online

Donald Hawley was an outstanding and distinguished member of a remarkable generation who left the Sudan Political Service just before Sudanese independence on 1 January 1956 and joined what was then the Foreign Service.

Born in 1921, Hawley was educated at Radley and New College, Oxford, where he read Law. After acceptance into the Sudan Political Service he embarked initially in 1941 on a wartime career in the Sudan Defence Force but because of the shortage of administrators in Sudan in 1944 he was suddenly obliged, much against his will, to take up his appointment as an Assistant District Commissioner before transferring to the judiciary and becoming a judge of the High Court in Khartoum. After being called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1951, he rose to the post of Chief Registrar. He stayed on for a further four years and developed a deep affection for the Sudanese that remained with him all his life.

His overseas career as a diplomat started in 1958 in Dubai as Political Agent, Trucial States. It coincided with the emergence as ruler in Dubai of Sheikh Rashid bin Said al-Maktoum, who was in a great hurry to make progress and found in Hawley, with all his colonial experience, someone who could give him sound advice on his development plans. After nearly four busy years of rapid change, Hawley was given another inspired posting to Cairo as Head of Chancery in the heady years of Arab nationalism under Nasser. It was there that he met Ruth Howes, whom he married in 1964, before they transferred to a two-year posting in Lagos, which was punctuated by a series of crises as Nigeria moved from democracy to military rule.

After a sabbatical at Durham University, which was cut short but still resulted in the publication of one of the standard works on the Trucial States (The Trucial States, 1971), Hawley was posted to Baghdad. The reason for the urgency of his move was the resumption of relations with Iraq, where he was needed as Commercial Counsellor and number two to the new ambassador. It was a difficult time under a brutal totalitarian regime which proceeded to shock the world with the public hanging of alleged spies for Israel, an act that sorely tested our relations.

After three years, Hawley was appointed in May 1970 the first British ambassador to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman. However before the Sultan gave his agreement, his son, Qaboos, seized power in a bloodless coup in July and Hawley then became accredited in 1971 as the first ambassador to the renamed Sultanate of Oman.

Over the next four years Hawley developed a close relationship with the Sultan and was active in helping with Oman's renaissance, not least in successfully advocating increased British military support against the Communist-backed insurgency in Dhofar. Hawley once described it as "a splendid old-fashioned ambassador's job because of Britain's special commitment to the Sultan", which he and his wife ably conducted from the historic residence on the Muscat harbour-front until his posting back to London in 1975 as Assistant Under-Secretary, with responsibility, as he put it, "for a ragbag of departments", including oversight of consular affairs that led him to undertake a mission to Idi Amin in Uganda and another to Cyprus following the Turkish invasion in 1974. He retained however his special interest in Oman and founded in 1976 the now flourishing Anglo-Omani Society, of which he remained a vice-president.

Two years later, Hawley was posted to yet another Muslim country, as high commissioner in Malaysia, where he spent the last four years of his service successfully negotiating some bumpy periods in relations and acquiring a vast and varied number of Malaysian friends, which all contributed yet another strand in his unrivalled knowledge and experience of the Islamic world.

Hawley put this knowledge to good use in his retirement, acting for many years as chairman of the Sudan Pensioners' Association, the British Malaysian Society, which he had been instrumental in founding, the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, and the Sir William Luce Memorial Fund. Apart from several executive and advisory positions in the commercial world, he was also President of the Council of Reading University from 1987 until 1994, and received honorary degrees from there and Durham. He found time in his retirement to write a number of books, including several publications on the Sudan, and two useful volumes of advice on manners and correct form in the Gulf. He also passed on his knowledge and experience to a wide circle on the lecture circuit, where his sharp wit and cheerfulness endeared him to all.

In their Wiltshire retirement, Hawley and his wife were closely involved in local and church affairs, and he served as the local church warden. Shortly before he died he published his last book, a history of Little Cheverell, the village where they had so happily settled.

Terence Clark

Donald Frederick Hawley, diplomat and writer: born Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire 22 May 1921; staff, Sudan Political Service 1944-55, Chief Registrar, Sudan Judiciary, and Registrar-General of Marriages 1951; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1951; MBE 1955; staff, HM Foreign Service (later Diplomatic Service) 1955-81, Political Agent, Trucial States 1958-62, Head of Chancery, British Embassy, Cairo 1962-65, Counsellor and Head of Chancery, British High Commission, Lagos 1965-67, Counsellor (Commercial), Baghdad 1968-71, HM Consul-General, Muscat 1971, ambassador to Oman 1971-75, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1975-77, British High Commissioner in Malaysia 1977-81; CMG 1970, KCMG 1978; chairman, British Malaysian Society 1983-95; President of the Council, Reading University 1987-94, Member of Court 1994-2008; Chairman, Sudan Pensioners Association 1992-2008; Chairman, Royal Society for Asian Affairs 1994-2002, Vice-President 2002-08; married 1964 Ruth Howes (one son, three daughters); died Little Cheverell, Wiltshire 31 January 2008.