Born: March 20, 1950;

Died: April 27, 2021.

FOR someone who had not yet turned 40, Donald Liddell was doing exceptionally well to be appointed as chief executive of East Kilbride District Council in 1988.

The go-ahead new town was in good shape. A survey by Strathclyde Business School had just described it as the most successful new town in Scotland in attracting industry and creating jobs. A high number of Japanese and American companies had made their way there.

A few years later, the district council was looking ahead to the time when it would absorb some of the functions of the East Kilbride Development Corporation when it was wound up. “The future offers a larger role for the district council”, the authority’s leader declared in December 1992.

Liddell himself told the Glasgow Herald that while the workload for his staff would increase, they had a “forward-looking determination” to deliver what would be required by industry and the local community.

Behind the scenes, however, the chief executive’s relationship with the council was turning sour.

In early 1993 the Scottish chairman of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives was brought in to negotiate on Liddell’s behalf after the council reportedly made clear that they wanted him to go.

When he retired that July, on stress-related grounds of ill-health, he was still in his early forties.

He thus joined a list of Scottish council chief executives who had, for one reason or another, been displaced. It had happened in the Western Isles, Hamilton, Edinburgh, North-east Fife and Aberdeen.

One newspaper wrote: “The cutbacks facing councils in the last few years make it more difficult to remain apolitical, and chief executives’ actions are always under scrutiny, their motives open to interpretation”. There was a tension between councillors and chief executives, the latter having to carry out practicalities on a limited budget.

“Donald was someone who got on very well with people of all persuasions but he and other officials in East Kilbride did not agree with some of the decisions that had been taken, and that led to a parting of the ways”, his wife, Veronica, recalls. “It was a stressful period for him”

Undaunted, however, Liddell went on to open another chapter in his professional life, becoming chief executive of the Scottish Society for Autistic Children.

“Donald was looking for a new job, and the autism post came up”, says Veronica. “I don’t think they had had a chief executive before, and I think they were delighted to have him, given all his experience at running a large organisation”.

By the time it became the Scottish Society for Autism in 1999, the charity’s services had expanded considerably. “One of our main messages is that no-one need stand alone anymore”, Liddell said in a Herald interview.

Donald Liddell, who has died in hospital, aged 71, after a long illness, was proud of his decade at the helm of the organisation, which today is known as Scottish Autism.

He helped to establish Struan House School in Alloa and Clannalba Respite Centre in Lamington, and organised the Autism – Europe 2000 conference, which brought 1,500 participants from all over Europe to Glasgow’s SECC.

Donald Liddell was born in Hamilton in 1950, to Bob and Jessie Liddell. He had a brother, Bill. He attended Hamilton Academy before studying law at Glasgow University, where he studied law. His legal apprenticeship was served at Livingston Development Corporation, where he helped with land conveyancing for the new town.

In 1971 he met Veronica (née McKeon), who was from Bathgate. “He was very easy to talk to, that’s what I remember”, she says now. “So far as I was concerned it was like coming home, in a sense”.

They married two years later, and moved to Lanark, as Donald had begun working for the legal department at Clydesdale District Council. He would remain with the authority for 14 years, rising to become Head of Administration and Legal Services.

“At one time he was doing three jobs at once, as the chief executive had left before a replacement could be appointed. That was a really hectic time for him, and when he applied for the East Kilbride post he was delighted to get it”, his wife says.

Accustomed to working long hours, Donald never did have much time for hobbies, gardening aside. But he was a keen jazz fan – Gerry Mulligan was a particular favourite – and he dabbled in DIY, his proudest achievement being a set of furniture for his daughters’ Sindy dolls. He also enjoyed watching rugby.

His main passions were his children – Kathryn, who now works for Lloyds Bank; Julia, an NHS speech therapist, and James, a software developer with an online company.

Once they had left the family home Donald and Veronica often took leisurely holidays in America. He loved California, and the sharp contrast between bohemian San Francisco and the glitz of Los Angeles. He and Veronica also adored the scenery, from the furnace of Death Valley to the redwood forests and the grandeur of route 101.

In his later years he devoted himself to his eight grandchildren – Annabel, Juliet, Stan, Jessica, Rhys, Joey, Claire and Andrew.