Obituary: Gordon Hendry CBE, Scottish Office civil servant

Gordon Hendry CBE, former Assistant Secretary at the Scottish Office. Born: 7 June 1922 in Aberdeen. Died: 12 September 2020 in Yorkshire, aged 98

Friday, 16th October 2020, 7:15 pm
Gordon Hendry, ever the dapper gentleman, in June 2017
Gordon Hendry, ever the dapper gentleman, in June 2017

Gordon Hendry worked for the Scottish Office from 1947 to 1982, an exciting period in Scottish economic development. He was born in Aberdeen in 1922. His father, John Hendry, started in 1905 as an office boy with a herring merchant company and ended up as a Partner.

He followed the fish as they moved with the seasons, being sent to Holland and to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk in the autumn. There he met Annie Florence Madison, who worked in the booksellers and stationers. They wed in 1912, and returned to Aberdeen where Gordon’s older brother Ian was born soon after. Gordon was named after his paternal uncle Gordon, who was in the Gordon Highlanders and died in August 1918, and he remembered his uncle with sadness every Armistice Day, even until last year.

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He had a happy childhood and went to Aberdeen Grammar School, cycled around the countryside, enjoyed holidays at Tarland and Banchory and then went to Aberdeen University to study economics, graduating with a first class honours degree in 1942. During that time he was very active socially, running the university magazine, Gaude, and participating in the Observer Corps shifts, watching the skies at night, and identifying aircraft during the Second World War.

At university he also met Elsa, who was the Chief Constable of Aberdeen‘s daughter. She left Aberdeen University in 1941 to join the Wrens, where she became a torpedo wren with the Fleet Air-arm and by which time she was already engaged to Gordon.

On graduating Gordon joined the RAF as a radio mechanic, being promoted to the level of Corporal. He wed Elsa on her 23rd birthday in August 1944, and they were posted as a married couple around the various RAF bases, primarily in England. Gordon was one of the last people to be demobbed from the RAF in 1947, and continued to serve in the Observer Corps until 1958.

In 1947 Gordon and Elsa moved to Edinburgh when Gordon was offered a position in the Scottish Office starting as a “Temporary Technical Assistant in Farm Economics” for the princely annual salary of just over £400 per annum. He then developed as an agricultural economist and served successfully as a civil servant in the Scottish Office until 1982. He moved around departments, starting in Agriculture, then Research and Development, then the Development Division and Roads and Transport. Over time he became more of a general planner and was significant in government support for the development of new towns including East Kilbride, Cumbernauld and Livingston, then Scottish oil, and roads planning - including some bypasses still in use today. He worked under various political regimes and Secretaries of State - Willie Ross, Bruce Millan, and George Younger.

As he finished his career in his senior position of Assistant Secretary, he was awarded the CBE for public service, presented by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace. When he retired Gordon received many tributes from former colleagues remarking on his quick intellect, his gentle persuasion, his steadiness under political pressure and aptitude for encouraging and developing other people. After retirement he further undertook some independent projects – reviewing Scottish Historic Monuments and Boundary Inquiries.

In Edinburgh, Gordon and Elsa attended the Church of Scotland, joining South Morningside around 1952, after moving from the north of the city to Greenbank and in 1961 to Buckstone. As an Elder he took on a variety of different roles including District Christian Aid coordinator, Communications Group Chair and member of the Kirk Session, where his quiet wisdom was much respected.

By the late Fifties Ian and Susan had come along and the family attended Sunday school activities including annual picnics at places like Eddlestone and West Linton. The bonds of strong friendship formed by that group of Sunday school families and other church members have long endured. Although, sadly, most of his generation have passed away, in every instance of a friend’s ill health, Gordon was there to offer support, and that kindness is remembered by their families.

Elsa was the love of his life and they celebrated 69 years of marriage before she died in 2013. She was also prominent in the Church of Scotland, becoming one of the first women Elders, a leading light of the Women’s Guild and Scottish President of the Women’s World Day of Prayer. Gordon lovingly cared for her at home after she fell ill until the last six months of her life, when he visited her in a nursing home every day.

He was very good humoured – he would get off the bus each evening and go up Buckstone Gardens, whistling – the family living in the house at the end, seeing him from their dining room window, called him “the cheery man”. He was a dedicated family man, proud of Ian, an architect, and Susan, an NHS Director, and grandchildren James, Philippa, Charles, Alexa and Katy, now working all over the world. He has two great grandchildren, Paul and Nola, in Australia.

In 2017 Gordon moved to join Susan and Nigel in Yorkshire in order to live directly with family again, and then to a local care home in Denby Dale.

People constantly remarked upon Gordon as a gentleman, because of his impeccable appearance, but mainly because of his dignity and warm, considerate manner.

SUSAN ELLIS