Archibald Duncan Wilson 184
- Born: 8 December 1911, The Corner, St Cross, Winchester
- Died: 20 September 1983 aged 71
From the Times, 22 September 1983:
Sir Duncan Wilson, GCMG, formerly HM Ambassador to Russia and Masterrof Corpus Christi College, Cambridge from 1971 to 1980 died on
September 20. He was 72.
Archibald Duncan Wilson was born on August 12, 1911, the son of A. E.
Wilson, and was educated at Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford.
After an impeccable classical career (a First in Mods and Greats,
Craven Scholarship, Laming Fellowship at the Queen's College), he was
successful in the competitive examination for entry to the pre-war
diplomatic service but did not pass the medical examination on account
of a back ailment - which did not prevent him from spending a
physically active life (including skilful tennis and energetic
cross-country skiing). For this reason, after leaving Oxford he spent
a year teaching at Westminster School, and joined the Bristish Museum
as Assistant Keeper in 1937.
The opportunity to enter the Foreign Office returned as a result of
the War. After two years in the Ministry of Economic Warfare he spent
the remainder of the War years at the Foreign Office, specializing in
German affairs and continuing in the Allied Control Commission for
Germany after 1945. He joined the post-war Foreign Service in 1947
and served in Berlin for the next two years, during the Soviet blocade
of the city.
The remainder of Wilson's professional career as a diplomat spanning
25 years, was spent as a specialist on Communist affairs. After two
years in Belgrade and a term as Director of Research at the Foreign
Office, he was successively [IT:Charge daffaires:IT] in Peking,
Ambassador in Yugoslavia, and from 1968 Ambassador to the USSR,
holding the latter post on his retirement in 1971.
To these important posts Wilson brought a characteristic personal
blend of scholarship, wit, intelligence and enjoyment. At a time when
the Communist world was undergoing a period of rapid change, and doing
all it could to conceal such changes and the accompanying internal
differences from view, it took someone of Wilsons's wide-ranging but
sharply perceptive mind, and profound interest, to illuminate the
nature and meaning of what was taking place.
His experience in the three most significaant Communist capitals was
invaluable, matching as it did a quality of mind singularly
well-suited to this work. Less expected, to those who did not know
him well, was the strain of idealism and warm human feeling which was
so important to Wilson himself. His approach to the leaders of the
Communist world was not that of a scholar only, because his wisdom and
understanding encompassed so much.
It was these personal qualities, as well as the enthusiastic and total
support of his wife, whom he married as Elizabeth Fleming in 1937,
which won for him the loyalty and dedication of his staff, wherever he
served. Few have given the Brisish Government more effective service
abroad in the post-war period, and when the history of western
relations with the Communist world between 1945 and 1970 comes to be
written, Wilson's role will find an important place in it.
Duncan Wilson had many interests. Music was a large part of his life
(his daughter Elizabeth married the pianist Radu Lupu), and in any
Embassy led by the Wilsons there was much musical endeavour and
enjoyment. It was his friendship with Britten and Rostropovich, and
his determination, which made it possible to hold a festival of
English music in Moscow in 1971, a rare and sucessful event.
It was also characteristic of Wilson that in spite of his many other
preoccupations he always found time to read much, and to write; few
Ambassadors of any nation have possessed the learning and dedication
to produce a book such as Wilson's [IT:Life and Times of Vuk
Stefanovic Karadzic:IT] (1970), a pioneer study which was the fruit of
his years in Yugoslavia.
Tall, soft spoken yet incisive, Wilson's far-seeing but amused and
kindly eyes always invited a second look at the familiar, and led the
way to the lesser known, in quest of understanding, friendship and
enjoyment. His ability to show others how to do this with complete
modesty was one of his most endearing characteristics.
On his retirement from the diplomatic service in 1971 Sir Duncan was
elected Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in succession to
Sir Frank Lee. His mastership coincided with the great economic
recession of the 1970s and was therefore perforce a time of
retrenchment. It also saw the breaking of many links with the past
owing to the retirement or death of several senior Fellows and
long-serving members of the College staff. Nevertheless, so far as
was possible, the corporate spirit and the quality of life for which
Corpus was well known were preserved; its links with the outside
world were extended under Wilson's aegis and its high academic
standards were maintained.
Sharing strong musical interests with his family, he naturally
encouraged music both in the College and in the University, where as
chirman of the Appeals Committee for a new Music School, he played a
vital part in procuring for Cambridge musicians their fine new
building in West Road.
At the same time, during hjis Mastership he found time for other
activities. His earlier career in the British Museum made his
appointment as chairman of a Committee of Enquiry into Public Records
(1978 - 80) particularly appropriate. He also resumed his literary
work, writing an account of Tito's Yugoslavia (1979) and a political
biography of Leonard Woolfe (1978), and after his retirement from the
Mastership in 1980, embarking upon a life of Gilbert Murray.
He leaves his widow and two daughters, his only son, David, having, to
his great sorrow, been killed in an accident in 1975.
Archibald married Elizabeth Ann Fleming, daughter of Mr. Fleming and Unknown.