The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Tribute to The Lord Monro of Langholm – 28 November 2006

Below is the text of Sir John Major’s tribute to Hector Monro, The Lord Monro of Langholm, at a memorial service held on Tuesday 28th November 2006.

The more one thinks of Hector Monro – the more he grows in the memory.
His circle of friends was wide. So were his interests: Politics, Scotland, the Armed Forces, the countryside, and any vintage vehicle that went fast. In leisure he was a fine sportsman; a good shot; captain of the South of Scotland Rugby XV; an enthusiastic golfer; a lover of cricket. These affections lasted all his life.
Hector was comfortable in his own skin. He was true to himself. He didn’t need – or ever try – to strike attitudes. If he supported you, he was at your side. If he opposed you – it was face to face. His ideals and beliefs were the noblest and he lived up to them. Hector left a mark on the lives of everyone he knew.
I first met Hector 30 years ago. We talked of rugby and cricket – and how – in order to build war-ships to fight Napoleon – Scotland had been denuded of trees. And they’re important subjects. Politics was barely touched upon. Over the years, we had many such conversations and – more often than not – we were on the same side – except, of course, at Twickenham and Murrayfield.
On both sides of his family, Hector came from a long line of soldiers – and a few seamen but at Cambridge – perversely – he joined the University Air Squadron and then, in 1941, the RAF. For 5 years in the war he flew Sunderlands on patrol in the Atlantic and Catalina’s in the Far East. He had a good war that reinforced his love for planes. It was no surprise that – later – he became Inspector General of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and an Honorary Air Commodore.
In 1949, 27-year-old Hector, war veteran and farmer, married Anne Welch and they lived a happy life together for 45 years. They had two boys, Seymour and Hughie, of whom they were immensely proud. Both of them inherited the Army strand of the Monro genes. Seymour retired as a Major-General and Hughie is still serving as a Brigadier. I knew his sons by proxy long before I met them. Only once did I know Hector to be discomforted by them – when he discovered they were earning more as junior Army officers than he was as a Government Minister.
Politics – to Hector – was a duty more than a passion. His political philosophy was pragmatism with a healthy disdain for dogma. After serving on the County Council, he was elected as the Member for Dumfries in 1964 – the only constituency he ever wished to represent. He served it faithfully for 33 years and retired in 1997 having won every election he contested.
In Parliament, Hector gravitated naturally to the Whips Office, then under the stewardship of his regular golfing partner, Willie Whitelaw. Willie had a combustible character, and Hector often exerted valuable influence on him. “Steady on, Willie, steady on”, he’d say, until the Whitelaw eruption subsided.
He had similar man management skills in the Commons. If an unwelcome question was put to him at the Despatch Box he would look up with a pained expression: “The hon Member really should know that” he’d tell the House: “go and look it up in the Library”. Few suspected that Hector sometimes needed to look it up as well.
Hector served on the front bench in Opposition – and as a Minister – for many years, generously returning to Office when the Government needed him in the 1990s, even though it meant severing other interests. It was typical of him to do so. Among Hector’s other virtues he was a team player with a grace that endeared him to colleagues and officials alike.
In – or out – of Government his affection for the Armed Services never wavered. It merged with his family history to make him fiercely defensive of the Army and, in particular, the Scottish Regiments. He once came to see me, to put a rational case against amalgamation of the Regiments. He arrived as an earlier delegation stomped out having made all sorts of rebellious noises over Europe, peppered with dark hints of the consequences if policy did not change. “It was”, said the Whip who was with me at the two meetings, “like gold after dross”. Hector’s civility was one of his many political assets. Some may have attained higher Office. None earned greater respect.
As the MP for the county he loved, his name was a byword for integrity, hard work and concern for all his constituents. This was never better illustrated than in December 1988, when a Pan Am airliner, destroyed by terrorists, crashed on to the town of Lockerbie.
For days, weeks, months, Hector was there – comforting and caring for his cruelly bereaved and injured constituents – long after others had been and gone. They were his people. By common consent, this was his finest hour – and it left a lasting affection for him across all political parties.
By 1994, his love of golf had led him to Doris, whom both he and Anne had known. It was another very successful marriage and I, personally, can attest to the affection in that happy home. Hector gave so much of himself to others – but with Anne and Doris – he was a self-confessed “very lucky man”!
Very occasionally – usually in the Summer – Hector would arrive at the Commons in a very old Black Bentley. He talked with great affection of that car. I was one of a group sharing a pre-lunch drink with Hector when an elderly colleague came up and – quite poker-faced – told us all that there had been an accident in the car park and some fool had smashed into an old Bentley and caved in the front wing. “A real mess”, he said. A pale-faced Hector was half-way to the door before he realised he was being teased. The offender made amends with a bottle of champagne – although a restorative Whisky might have been more appropriate. Hector, glass in hand, his equanimity restored, looked balefully at his tormentor and proposed a barbed toast to “vintage cars and senile old fools”.
To all of us lucky enough to know Hector his fixed memory is a happy one.
Hector Monro was a fully rounded man. By instinct, a countryman. In leisure: a sports-lover and enthusiast for cars and planes. In public duty: a JP, Deputy Lieutenant, politician, County Councillor, Minister of the Crown, Privy Counsellor, Knight, Peer of the Realm. And, above all, in his essential self – family man, patriot and Scot.
These were but the labels of a very full life – the real achievement of which lay in the very nature of the man himself.
Hector leaves a tremendous gap in the lives of those who loved him most: Doris, Seymour and Hughie, his sister and his six grandchildren. Today, all of us who were privileged to know this engaging, multi-faceted man, celebrate a life worth living and a man who, for eighty-three years, lived it to the full – and left, to his family and friends, some imperishable memories.
Our lives are richer for having known him – and richer still for having him as a friend.