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The Hon Dr Alasdair Morrison, 1929-2009

2 March 2010

Professor Michael Lee, former Head of the Department of Politics, remembers The Hon Dr Alasdair Morrison - an "excellent university teacher", erstwhile High Sheriff of Gloucester, and orchid enthusiast.

A Lecturer in Politics from 1966 to 1988, Alasdair Morrison was an excellent university teacher of a kind that would not fit into the current modes of research assessment. Undergraduates benefited from his wisdom, not his reputation as a writer. All my efforts as the head of department to persuade him to publish an academic article ended in failure. During my absence on leave he managed even to avoid editing and contributing to the special issue of a geographical journal which was designed to cover the joint Politics/Geography conference I had asked him to organise.

His principal enthusiasm was for orchids, of which he had a large personal collection. The Royal Horticultural Society was his substitute of an academic network or peer group. He was elected to the Society’s council in 1985. The Society gave him opportunities to go on orchid-hunting expeditions and to attend many world conferences of collectors.

His excellence as a teacher rested on a thorough grounding in philosophy. At Balliol College, Oxford, he had been awarded a first class in Classical Moderations (1948) and then after a year’s National Service, he had spent another three years studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics, graduating in 1952. He was therefore well equipped to make his pupils think about the basic dilemmas of war and diplomacy in the study of international relations. He could arouse interest in statecraft. He took an early retirement in order to join the team of Shell International that prepared scenarios of the future in world politics.

He also had the advantage of being active in public life and a man of the world. Born only a few weeks before his father was elected for the first time as the Conservative MP for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, he grew up with a strong sense of the obligations of political life. President of the Balliol Junior Common Room and of the Oxford University Conservative Association, he moved in the circles of the politically ambitious. Nicholas Ridley was one of his contemporaries. His elder brother, the heir to his father’s title, became a diplomat. But instead of following a similar route he began earning a living by working for Jardine Henderson in Calcutta (1952-6) and then for the education department of Saskatchewan (1957-61). He was out of the country for most of the time that his father was Speaker of the House of Commons (1951-59). He became extremely well informed about North America by deciding to write a doctoral thesis at the University of Chicago (1961-5).

The University of Bristol gained most from his savoir-faire during the disturbances in the student body of 1968-9. He conducted negotiations and wrote a report outlining what needed to be done in the reform of university government to give students some kind of representation at all levels. The county of Gloucester found him to be a very reliable district councillor; he served as High Sheriff in 1983-4. Living in Maisemore Hall, he was known for his generous hospitality, not least to his academic colleagues.


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