Obituary: James Rust, partner in Scottish law firm Morton Fraser

James Hamilton Rust WS. Born: 22 July 1958 in Aberdeen. Died: 10 August 2020 in Edinburgh, aged 62

James Rust was proud to have acted on behalf of Prince Charles
James Rust was proud to have acted on behalf of Prince Charles

James Hamilton Rust was the epitome of the Scottish "man o' pairts". In addition to pursuing a hugely successful legal career as a partner of Morton Fraser, he was a senior office bearer of the WS Society, Session Clerk at Wardie Church and Honorary Consul for Portugal in Edinburgh. Most importantly of all, he was also a devoted husband and a proud father.

James was born in Aberdeen, the eldest of four children of the late James, and Muriel Rust. Schooled initially at The Aberdeen Grammar School and latterly at Loretto School, he was a keen sportsman from an early age, developing a lifelong love of rugby through his playing days at school and thereafter at University and beyond. James spent many a happy Saturday afternoon propping in the wind and rain for various clubs, who benefited from his secretarial skills in administration, as much as from his prowess with the oval ball. Following graduation in Law from the University of Aberdeen in 1979, James completed his legal apprenticeship with Esslemont & Cameron in Aberdeen before moving south to join the firm of Morton Fraser (then known as Morton, Fraser & Milligan).

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In the almost 40 years since joining Morton Fraser in 1982 and becoming a partner in 1985, he built up a first-rate practice and a hugely loyal and talented team around him. James loved the variety of his client base – from individual landowners and farmers to national charities to Government departments. He was also a trusted adviser, and indeed a good friend, to a large number of the firm's private clients and in many cases continued to act for different generations of the same family. They all placed a huge value on what one client described as his "calm, measured and pragmatic approach".

His particular interest and expertise lay in rural matters. The Law Society of Scotland recognised James as an accredited specialist in agricultural law, whilst the leading independent guide to the legal market in Scotland described James as having "a great grasp of his subject" and "superb knowledge of complex issues".

He was particularly proud of having acted on behalf of HRH Prince Charles, The Duke of Rothesay, in connection with the Prince's intervention to save Dumfries House, one of Britain's most beautiful stately homes, for the nation.

It was through James' interest in rural life generally, and the world of bee-keeping specifically, that James’ firm became the regular sponsors of the Honey Tent at The Royal Highland Show, where James would take great delight in making the presentations to the various award winners. Having been an active member of the WS Society from his admission as a Writer to the Signet in 1985, James’ service to the Society was unique, in that he not only held two important roles, but did so concurrently, serving as Collector of the WS Dependents’ Annuity Fund from 2004 to 2014 and as Clerk from 2008. He loved welcoming new members to the Society, including students, at the admission ceremonies held twice a year. In his role as Clerk he was the first to shake their hands to congratulate them as they signed the Roll, and would always take time to chat with everyone in the room.

Outside his professional life, James (by his own admission) was an “average” golfer, a keen and proficient skier and in recent years developed a passion for fishing. He was never happier than on some river bank or loch, drinking in the surroundings and catching the (very odd!) trout or salmon.

As talented, hard-working and high achieving a lawyer as James undoubtedly was, his real professional legacy is the great affection in which he was held by all those who had the good fortune to work with him. James was a delight to work with, in whatever capacity you encountered him – charming, courteous, considerate, kind, loyal, supportive and great fun. A true gentleman.

That fundamental decency was most commonly demonstrated in the instinctive way in which he counselled and supported those around him. As hectic and demanding as life in a large, modern law firm can often be, James always seemed to have time for others, whether that was to bring a calm and rational perspective to a particularly tricky issue or just to cheer someone up with a chat at the coffee machine.

He was unfailingly generous and never slow to throw himself into fundraising efforts, whether by way of the challenge of running marathons, most recently the London Marathon in 2018, or enduring sub-zero temperatures as part of the "Big Sleep Out" in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens last December.

James was taken far too soon, with much more to do and enjoy. He bore his illness with his typical calm and measured approach, thinking of others before himself and to the end, upbeat. As cruel as his early passing is, his life was filled to the brim – an excerpt of Burns' “Epitaph on my own Friend” sums James up well: “The friend of man, the friend of truth; The friend of age, and guide of youth.”

In passing on his condolences, a client described James as "a thoroughly good person and a pleasure to spend time with". It is difficult to think of a more apt way to sum up the consistently positive impact James had upon everyone he encountered.

James is survived by his wife, Janet, his daughter, Josephine and his son, Callum.

CONTRIBUTED