Obituary: Garth Pettitt

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The Independent Online
Robin Garth Pettitt, civil servant, born Norwich 14 August 1932, married 1964 Elizabeth Jenkins (died 1970; one son, one daughter), died 29 May 1992.

GARTH PETTITT was the former head of the UN and Commonwealth department at the Overseas Development Administration (ODA).

After national service and Selwyn College, Cambridge, Pettitt joined the Colonial Office in 1957 and served his apprenticeship addressing political and economic developmental issues in Kenya. Those were exacting days throughout British Africa. The old empire was being dismantled, social and economic change were being rapidly introduced and ministers sought to develop some strategic grand design which would allow the evolution to political independence to proceed in good order.

Pettitt's promotion in 1960 to the Gibraltar and South Atlantic department of what had by then been christened the Commonwealth Office followed a short spell in the Minister of State's private office. Eventually all three political departments were merged in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) where Pettitt dealt variously with issues on East Africa, Nigeria and the United Nations, becoming a First Secretary at the High Commission in Lagos in 1967.

Sadly this was cut short after only a few months by the serious illness of his wife, who died in 1970, leaving him to bring up their two children on his own.

In 1972 Pettitt joined the Overseas Development Administration. Inevitably his knowledge of the UN led to his becoming the ODA expert on the workings of the organisation and its system of interlocking, but rival satrapies.

He himself, however, most enjoyed his four and a half years when he was posted to the FCO/ODA joint Pacific Territories departments in 1975. Apart from travel and associated bird- watching - a great passion, throughout his career he rarely travelled without his binoculars - he played a part in bringing a number of colonies to independence and supporting them in their first steps as nation states. Occasionally mistakes were made. Pettitt once visited a small Pacific island, one of whose few police officers went on a course to Hendon Police College and on his return attempted to introduce a one-way system on the island's only road.

When part of the ODA moved to East Kilbride in 1979 Pettitt went there to head the Overseas Manpower and Consultancies department. He journeyed up and down at weekends on one of his three powerful motorbikes.

Pettitt kept his enthusiasm for grass-roots aid when he moved back to London in 1983 to deal with UN development agencies. In 1991 he joined a multinational four-man team appointed to resolve the labyrinthine problem of payments for aid work financed through the UN Development Programme, but carried out largely by other UN bodies or recipient nations. He had the satisfaction before he retired a year ago of seeing most of their recommendations accepted.

Upon his retirement he was delighted to be asked to join the UK Unicef Committee's executive board. His work chiefly involved patiently untangling and arguing intricate policy and organisational issues, and promoting compromises between apparently irreconcilable agency member states. His quiet authority always won their respect.

Garth Pettitt's solid, rather stocky, form and steady gaze immediately suggested his patience, modesty, invariable good humour, dependability and kindliness. His often rather halting speech was more deceptive; he had a keen and penetrating intelligence which rejoiced in the challenge of analysing and pursuing an infinitely tangled diplomatic and political skein.