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Lady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton

Scotland Week and Tartan Day campaigner;

Born: August 6, 1909; Died: January 14, 2013.

Natalie Wales, formally Lady Douglas-Hamilton, who has died aged 103, dedicated her life to all things Scottish after marrying a Scottish nobleman, former Second World War fighter pilot and Inverness MP Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, in 1953.

In 1956, having settled in the US, the couple founded the American-Scottish Foundation, with the Latin motto Semper Scotia (Scotland For Ever). Based in New York, it was a non-profit organisation dedicated to bringing the US and Scotland together. After her husband and his 21-year-old son died when their plane crashed in Cameroon in 1964, she continued to run the foundation and remained its president emerita until her death.

She also helped Lord Malcolm organise and raise finance for the Glasgow-based Highland Fund for social and economic development, aimed at reversing the decay of the Highlands, which provided loans to crofters, fishermen and small businesses for more than half a century. When the fund folded in 2010, Highland MSP Jamie Stone, whose family received a loan to set up a cheese-making business, said: "I remember my parents being extraordinarily grateful for the help they got from the fund. Fifty years later, the business (the Highland Fine Cheese factory in Tain, Ross and Cromarty) is still going with a workforce of 10 and that's in no small measure due to that loan."

After her husband's death she fulfilled his dream of creating Scotland House in New York City and organising the high-profile American-Scottish Ball at the Plaza Hotel, as well as Scotland Week and later Tartan Day, with its colourful parade, supported by clan chiefs. She persuaded shops and businesses on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue to put Scottish flags or motifs in their windows and on lampposts, and organised pipe bands and other Scottish music and art exhibitions.

In the mid-1970s she opened Scotland House on East 39th Street, a place for Scots, American Scots or simply lovers of Scotland to gather for its library, movies, seminars, lectures, dances, dinners or ceilidhs. Sales of Scottish products helped to pay the bills. The House later moved to 575 Madison Avenue.

She persuaded British Caledonian to fly guests from Scotland to New York for the American-Scottish Ball but when the airline faced industrial disputes she phoned an old friend – reclusive businessman and aviator Howard Hughes. "Howard, I need a plane," she told him.

Natalie Scarritt Wales was born in Cohasset, Massachusetts, to Major Nathaniel B Wales and his wife Enid Scarritt, daughter of an episcopalian church minister and great granddaughter of Lady Susan Symington of Edinburgh. Her parents divorced when she was 13, adding to her natural tendency towards an independent spirit.

Her lineage made her a Daughter of the American Revolution – a descendant of the first 17th-century British settlers who went on to fight for independence from the colonial power. She became a Manhattan socialite, a stunningly beautiful and intelligent magnet for magazines such as Vogue and the New Yorker, and later a Second World War charity hero on behalf of besieged Britain. By her late teens she appeared in society and gossip columns and often on the front pages. She spent much of her life on Manhattan's Upper East Side, overlooking Central Park. "No tea after 4pm, because it interfered with sleep, and bourbon at 6pm," her grandson recalled.

She was 30 when she learned of the hardships in Britain during the early months of the Second World War, long before the US got involved in the conflict. She took a train to Washington DC to ask the British ambassador, Lord Lothian, if there was anything American citizens could supply to aid the war effort. After being put in touch with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, she received an answer: balaclava hats for Merchant Navy seamen freezing while shepherding allied convoys across the Atlantic. She set up what she called "Bundles for Britain," persuaded American wool mills to help, and set up an HQ in New York City which became overwhelmed with women handing in clothing or offering to knit. Soon she had several million helpers, and branches around the US, sending goods not only for service personnel but for civilian victims of the Luftwaffe bombings of London, Coventry and Clydeside. She was awarded an honorary CBE for her efforts.

It was after her first husband Edward Paine died suddenly in 1951 that she met Lord Douglas-Hamilton, son of the 13th Duke of Hamilton and a former Second World War Mosquito fighter pilot, while she was visiting the House of Commons. Both ardent anti-communists, they hit it off. He was married to Pamela Bowes Lyon, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, but got divorced to marry Natalie in 1953.

After spending time in London and Scotland, and setting up the Highland Fund, the couple settled in the US in the mid-1950s.

She treasured a note her husband wrote shortly before his death: "Scotland will always mean home to me. The eternal spiritual ownership of Scotland's wild freedom, her incredible beauty and the enveloping warmth of the land and of its people ... are of a value greater than gold." A devout Christian, she died in a care home in Andover, New Jersey.

She is survived by her daughter Mimi, six grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Her other daughter, Natalie "Bubbles" Wales, who was wife of Lieutenant-Colonel George P Burnett of the Scots Guards, died in 1988.

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