Angus Graham

Born: February 9, 1937;

Died: November 2, 2023

Angus Graham, who has died aged 86, grew a successful international business career as a chartered accountant and finance manager of companies based in the UK, US and France. His big break came in 1976 when he moved to Scotland to become finance director of Inver House Distillers, an ailing drinks company based in Airdrie.

Then owned by Philadelphia-based Publicker Industries, Inver House had been starved of investment but Mr Graham and his colleagues on the executive team could see potential. In 1988 Angus Graham and a board colleague, Bill Robison, led a management buy-out which freed them to embark on an ambitious growth plan to refocus the business as a specialist producer of high quality single malt whiskies. Over the ensuing decade the company acquired five malt distilleries, including Knockdhu and Pulteney. In 2001 it was sold to a Thai-based drinks group, Pacific Spirits.

Angus Graham was born in London in February 1937 to GP John Graham and his Swiss-born wife Yvonne Dubois of the eponymous watchmaking dynasty. He had one older and two younger sisters. The family lived in Seaford, East Sussex, where Angus came across a downed Messerschmitt that had been participating in the Luftwaffe’s 1942 “Tip & Run” raids on south coast towns.

His father had inherited Ballewan, an 800-acre estate near Blanefield, Stirlingshire, in 1929. It had been in the family since 1835. Though the main house was let to tenants, the Grahams began spending their summers there, camping in the old stable wing in primitive conditions, with tea-coloured spring-water coming from the taps and an ancient oil-fired stove.

Initially there was no mains electricity but as Angus later recalled “it was every boy’s dream. There were burns to dam, blocks and tackles and all sorts of tools to mess about with. I was out and up the hill from dawn to dusk.”

His sister Catherine remembers that the two of them once edged along the narrow ledge on the outside of one of the Katrine aqueducts a hundred feet above the glen beneath. Their parents were never told. As a young teenager he acquired a .22 rifle and thus began a lifelong passion for shooting.

Educated at Charterhouse School in Surrey, he excelled at sports, especially cross country running, but failed the Oxford entrance and opted instead for accountancy. By the early 1960s he was working in Albany, NY as a CA when a mutual friend introduced him to Catherine Sword from Cheshire. They were engaged in New York and married in England in 1964. Simon was born in 1966 and Philippa two years later. Soon afterwards the family settled in Paris where Mr Graham worked for textile company Koracorp.

In 1976 Levi Strauss offered him a job in San Francisco, provoking him to make the decision that would transform his life. He had always loved Ballewan and thought: “What’s the point having this place in the family and not living in it?” So Angus Graham went job hunting in Scotland and the family moved to Ballewan in 1977.

Unfailingly polite and an excellent listener, he was also funny, even mischievous. To the very end of his life there was always some scheme he was working on, whether it was a fiendish Wentworth jigsaw, a long-abandoned cider press or an old sewing machine. Philippa and Simon remember him as obsessively interested in just about anything and anybody he came across: whether life-size wooden models of alpine cattle relocated to the garden at Ballewan, or German military paraphernalia including an original MG-38 machine gun. Only a couple of months ago a tiger’s head mysteriously appeared on his wall. Above all, it was his enduring curiosity, roguish wit and warmth for which he will always be remembered.

In recent years he has enjoyed re-enacting the escapades of his youth with his six grandchildren on mini-adventures that often involved picnics in the woods and brewing up dubious looking tea in an old billycan. His love and appreciation of trees and birds was always close to the surface.

With retirement came the opportunity to focus on what Angus Graham loved most, outside of his family: cars, shooting, golf and travel. He became one of the handful of people in Scotland who loved and owned post-vintage thoroughbred Aston Martin sports cars built in the 1930s. Over the years he had three: a Le Mans tourer from 1933, a 1935 four-seat Ulster tourer (one of only four made) and his last Aston, a 1936 2-litre Sports Model, which was still in his possession when he died. Unlike many classic car enthusiasts, he drove them as they were built to be driven – fast.

He competed in hill climbs and toured Spain, Switzerland and France with Catherine, culminating in the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California. A circuit of the Campsie Fells via the Crow Road and Fintry was a favourite run on fine summer days.

He adored the Scottish hills and islands. Stalking on Jura each September and holidays on Colonsay were de rigeur. He also played and followed golf. For a time the Grahams owned a villa on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, venue of the unforgettable 1991 Ryder Cup.

Although Ballewan was the ancestral family home, Angus and Catherine decided in retirement they would move to a modern, energy-efficient house. They designed and had built a large villa in Blanefield, on a corner of an estate field, and moved there in 2011. Sadly, soon afterwards Catherine developed dementia and died in 2018. Son Simon and his family now live at Ballewan.

Mr Graham’s love of his village led him to offer a large donation to Strathblane Community Development Trust to fund a badly-needed new local library. After three years of hard work, he proudly opened the Thomas Graham Community Library last April, named in memory of his great-great-uncle who had been a pioneering British chemist in the mid-1800s.

Angus Graham is survived by his sisters Veronica, Catherine and Christina, son Simon, daughter Philippa and grandchildren, Hattie, Tom, Joseph, Poppy, Alexandra and Harry.

Alastair Balfour and Anne Johnstone