Born: March 29, 1932; Died: April 9, 2012.


I knew Donald Robertson for over half a century, ever since he came to Edinburgh in 1960 to be admitted as a member of the Faculty of Advocates. We were colleagues at the Scottish Bar for several decades and friends for even longer.

About the time that Donald was admitted it had become a common practice for those joining the Scottish Bar from the west to lose their accents somewhere on the train between Queen Street and Waverley. Donald made no such compromise – but brought his true personality with him and, by doing so, enriched the Scottish Bar.

His capacity for making friends was remarkable. Like so many others, we were often guests of Donald and Daphne at Cranshaws Castle, a glorious setting for parties, for laughter, for conviviality and for significant – even excessive – indulgence in the good things in life. Donald enjoyed being a generous host and it was a great sadness for him that after some 40 years he felt that the time had come to leave Cranshaws.

Between them, Donald and Daphne had transformed the keep and the grounds into a magnificent setting for a unique form of hospitality. And that hospitality was extended not just to close friends like us in Edinburgh, or to fellow grouse shooters and neighbours from the Cranshaws area, but also to our family members and our visiting friends from abroad. They were fascinated by the battlements, the swords and the armour – though one granddaughter, of a rather delicate temperament, was horrified by the dead animals that gazed down from the walls, bearing witness to Donald's favourite sport: shooting. He treasured his collection of beautiful hunting rifles and shotguns.

Donald also had a lifelong interest in numismatics but loved Cranshaws so much he sold his collection of coins to finance the restoration of the interior of the castle, carried out by his friend, the architect Ian Begg. The result was magnificent. For Donald, how he lived was more important to him than the things he possessed.

Donald was his own man. He knew who he was. Above all, he was a Scot, proud of the part played by Scots in European history and achievement. He was particularly proud of his middle name Buchanan, his mother's maiden name. He came from a family of yacht builders at Langbank, and enjoyed telling the story of how two young Americans who brought their yacht to the family boatyard invited Donald's grandfather to join them in the cigarette business. He declined, taking the view that gentlemen smoked cigars – so cigarettes would never catch on. The two young men left disappointed but developed the business on their own. Their names were WD & HO Wills.

Donald was also fascinated by the history of the Scots in Europe, notably as mercenaries serving with the French in their wars with the English. He would go to France to tour the battlefields where the Scots fought, to search out the names, the graves and the histories of Scots who played such an important, though largely forgotten, part in the 15th-century battles between the English and the French. He toured the chateaux of the Loire not just to admire the gardens and the architecture, but to read the graffiti that Scots mercenaries had carved and scribbled on the walls.

Whether in Scotland or in France, whether in public or at home, when Donald wore the kilt, the sporran, the green stockings, the cape and even the bonnet, he was not making a fashion statement. There was no element of affectation. He was simply declaring his pride in his Scottish identity and his determination to salute the Scottish heritage of which he was so proud. He even wore the kilt once in court, on the undefended Divorce Roll on a Saturday morning, apparently to the displeasure of Lord Cameron before whom he was appearing. But he wore it just the same.

It was that same fascination with Scottish history that led him to become a regular voluntary guide at the National Museum of Scotland, sharing with so many visitors his pride in the Scottish tradition of the democratic intellect and the real contribution that Scots had made to the civilisation and intellectual history of Europe. As a museum guide Donald had a gift for conveying that enthusiasm to others, not least children.

Donald was an advocate not just for his many clients but for the achievements of his Scots forbears. The castle of Cranshaws was a fitting backdrop to that advocacy.

One other thing: the Faculty of Advocates that Donald joined in 1960 was – and, I hope, still is – a body in which members share a powerful tradition of independence and an unwritten but well understood professional ethic. And one very positive aspect of that tradition has always been that, as a member of Faculty, you could be yourself; you could be different; you did not have to conform to some restrictive code. You did not have to look over your shoulder to discover how others saw you.

Although – to outsiders – advocates may all look the same in their 18th-century wigs, their black gowns and their formal court speech, the truth is that, as a member, you are free to express and reveal your own personality. That suited Donald perfectly. He realised and expressed his personality fully in his work, his leisure, his dress, his friendships and his conversation. He remained the man he was. He was uniquely Donald Buchanan Robertson.

So, at this time of mourning for Daphne, Dirk, Deirdre and the wider family, and all Donald's friends and admirers, we can surely take comfort not only from the way in which Donald enriched our lives but also in the way in which he lived and enjoyed his own. We treasure our memories of him.