Widow of the 7th Duke, Gaelic supporter and charity activist.

Born: November 15, 1928; Died: March 13, 2014.

Susan, Dowager Duchess of Montrose, who has died aged 85 after several years of illness, was the widow of James Angus Graham, the 7th Duke of Montrose and chief of the Clan Graham. She was deeply involved in preserving and promoting Gaelic and supported her husband when he served in Ian Smith's Rhodesian cabinet.

Loading article content

She became the Duchess in 1954 and after the death of her husband in 1992, she became Dowager Duchess until her recent death. She supported charities in and around Kinross, where she spent her latter years, and had been a member and supporter, since 1953, of An Comunn Giadhealach, the oldest Gaelic language organisation, which organises the Royal National Mod, and she attended the Mod whenever she could.

Born in Africa of Irish parents serving there -- her father was a doctor -- she spent most of her life and marriage in southern Africa, where she met James Angus Graham, at the time the Marquis of Graham, at a dance in Kenya when he was on a big game hunting trip. They married in Rhodesia in 1952.

It was in 1954, when his father died, that Angus, as he was always known, took the title 7th Duke of Montrose and Susan became the Duchess. She supported her husband on his Rhodesian farmland and as an elegant and charming hostess when he served in Ian Smith's Rhodesian cabinet as agriculture minister and later as minister for external affairs and development. As a cabinet minister, he was one of a dozen signatories of Ian Smith's historic Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain in 1965. As always, he signed it simply "Montrose."

On Derry Farm at Nyabira outside Salisbury, the Duchess was equally at home entertaining visiting politicians and their wives or in her Wellington boots among the maize or tobacco crops, if not tending their pedigree Brahman cattle from bloodstock imported from Texas. She remained a hands-on farmer's wife after they moved to South Africa in 1979, farming a small holding near Pietermaritzburg until the Duke decided to return to his roots in Scotland in 1988, when he had already turned 80, settling in the Kinross area at the foot of the Ochil Hills.

Susan Mary Jocelyn Semple was born in Zanzibar, the archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the African coast which at the time was a British protectorate but now forms part of Tanzania. Both of her parents were from the Dublin area -- Anne Gladys Steen and Dr. John Mervyn Semple, who had served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Irish Rifles during the First World War before joining the Colonial Medical Service as a doctor in Gilgil, Kenya.

The young Miss Semple spent the first six years of her life in Kenya, attending the Kaptagat preparatory school, formerly a colonial-style school but later the first such school to accept children of all races. Suffering from malaria, she was sent back to Ireland to live with her grandmother in Carrickmines, outside Dublin, keeping in touch with her parents via regular letters to and from Africa.

At the age of 12, she rejoined her parents in Uganda (at the time also a British protectorate), where her father had been posted as senior medical director of the Uganda Medical Services in Entebbe.

After the Second World War, she married Michael Raleigh Gibbs of Nakuru, Kenya, who died only two years later. It was in 1952 that she met Angus, at that time Marquis of Graham, and they married the same year, inheriting, in 1954, the Dukedom of Montrose (first granted to James Graham, chief of the Clan Graham, for supporting the Act of Union in 1707).

Her new husband, who had also been married before, was brought up in or around the family seat at Auchmar in Drymen, Stirling, and educated at Eton and Oxford. He served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve after the outbreak of the Second World War on board HMS Kandahar as part of Mountbatten's flotilla in the North Sea and later in the Mediterranean.

He first went to Rhodesia in 1930 to work for a subsidiary of the chemical giant ICI and ended up spending most of his life in Africa.

His father, James Graham the 6th Duke, a politician and engineer, has been widely credited with conceiving and designing the first-ever aircraft carrier during the First World War.

The Dowager Duchess was a dedicated member and supporter of the historic Cleish Parish Church near Kinross until her health began failing five years ago.

When her husband, the 7th Duke, died in 1992, the title of 8th Duke of Montrose went to his son from his first marriage, James Graham of Auchmar, Drymen, now a well-known peer and Conservative party politician.

The Dowager Duchess is survived by her children Jocelyn, Kirstie, Donald, Calum and Lilias, as well as 14 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.