St Mary’s Easton was full to the brim for the Thanksgiving Service for Gordon Macpherson. The service was introduced by Revd. Alex Pease and then led by Very Revd Alec Knight. The hymns sung were Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, I vow to thee my country and Praise my soul the king of heaven. Adrian Webb played the organ.
The readings by the grandchildren William, Arthur, Sofia and Freddie included ‘An honest man here lies at rest’ by Robert Burns, Minnie Louise Haskins reading ‘As I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year’, ‘In the Highlands of Scotland I Love’ by Alan Riach and ‘to laugh often and love much’ by Ralph Wardo Emerson. Alexander read ‘Death is nothing at all’ by Henry Scott Holland. Angus Macpherson read 1 Corinthians 15. Michael Gray played the Highland Cathedral on the pipes at the sortie.
Ewen Macpherson read the following tribute:
We are here to celebrate Gordon’s life. Born in November 1931 he was my younger brother, with six years spanning the four of us, he was at number three. He started life being called Sandy but before the war there was a cinema organist on the radio called Sandy Macpherson which annoyed him so he changed to Gordon.
Growing up during the war we were a close but competitive group and had to find our own amusements with Gordon often producing the most imaginative ideas for games. He followed his two elder brothers to Eton, did his national service commissioned in the Rifle Brigade, a regiment that encouraged an unconventional approach which appealed to Gordon, and surprisingly he briefly considered signing on for a short service commission in the regular army.
He followed my brother Colin and me to Trinity, Cambridge. The early fifties in Cambridge seems a golden era in retrospect with little academic pressure, many job opportunities, plenty of free time and long vacations. He showed an early grasp of finance when he was on the committee of the Trinity May Ball, run by the boat club, and required to make a profit where he argued that they should put up the price of tickets once they had covered their costs, an unusual idea at that time. If memory serves me right the tickets were priced at 6 guineas each in those pre decimal days which included unlimited champagne and a sit down dinner. On another occasion Gordon took a bet that he could drink a bottle of Merry Down cider and then complete a long division sum, he completed the first part of the wager but not the second.
It was during one long vacation that Gordon hitch hiked around the States, dressed in a kilt, arriving at one of his destinations in a garbage truck, that led to a lifelong love of the US and he became closely involved with the Paine family at their wonderful place on Lake Champlain and Peter and Sis in effect became his American parents.
It was his decision to try for the Harvard Business School on leaving Cambridge that set him on his career in finance. This was an untrodden path for someone coming straight from a British university at that time, in addition to which most of those attending already had some business experience. Gordon told me that for the first six months he didn’t know what had hit him, the working pressure was in stark contrast to the relaxed tempo at Cambridge. Typically he rose to the challenge and graduated.
He then worked as an analyst at the brokers, Carl M. Loeb Rhoades on Wall Street. This was a Jewish firm who had taken in a number of remarkable refugees from Europe that gave it a cosmopolitan aura and a wider vison than a purely domestic American firm. He enjoyed his time in New York with his green Austin Healey sports car and was surprised when taking a girl out that she sat in the passenger seat until he had opened the door for her.
His time in the US came to an end when he was involved in a bad car accident being concussed and losing some teeth. He returned to the UK, joining the family stockbroking firm, Buckmaster & Moore.
Here he developed the research department as his American experience was invaluable and ahead of our competitors. Whilst there he started a small electronic distributor company, Unitech with Peter Currey, a fellow student at the Business School. This developed over the years under his financial guidance into a flourishing success and was finally sold at many times the original cost.
Meanwhile the research department attracted a number of able people whose analytical powers were considerable but who tended to spend much of their time arguing amongst themselves about how the business should be run. Gordon gradually withdrew to develop Unitech and was involved in helping one or two other companies.
On a more personal note when Gordon returned to this country he lived at first with us in London when our children were quite young and became a very popular uncle known to them as Rich Uncle Gor. He not only produced marvellous presents but also introduced new games such as cork donkey which sometimes led to physical violence and Not I Sir which we played at Katy’s 21st last month.
He had an astonishing ability to learn practical matters from books, starting with double entry accounting aged 12 and he learnt to sail from a book when at school. Angus tells me that there was some consternation when they found that his bedside reading contained Be Your Own Plumber. As recently as last year he was arguing in depth with SNH about their system for modelling deer populations as he had gone back to read the original research on the subject. He was certainly one of the best financial analysts of my experience.
Those who knew Gordon well quickly learned that his views on many subjects were idiosyncratic and here I quote from a letter I recently received from one of our colleagues at B&M “that he had the ability of a barrister to master a complex brief and become a brilliant advocate …views that were not always fixed in concrete. An analogy that comes to mind is the 17thcentury figure, William Prynne, who held political and religious opinions that were subject to change but always powerfully expressed. One contemporary went so far as to claim, in his admiration of Prynne’s forensic skills that he could find treason in a bull rush and innocence in a scorpion.” I think Gordon would have enjoyed that comparison.
He had the good fortune to meet and marry Julie and to enjoy a long and happy married life, starting here at the Old Rectory bringing up their two sons, Alex and Angus. They tell me it was an ideal place to grow up and explore the water meadows where Gordon used to mow the paths until he ran the mower into the river only for Angus to helpfully ask “Shall I go and get Mum?” Sailing was another enthusiasm, first in power boats then in his own yachts but junior members of the crew were left in no doubt who was the skipper.
He always had a romantic relationship with Scotland and travelled with our father when he bought Attadale in the west highlands. He and brother Neil spent a lot of their time there before they were married. Roddy Butcher told us that when his father was making a delivery to Attadale, Gordon waited for the cook to come out to collect the meat then put a thunder flash under the van with spectacular results.
Gordon and his family came every summer to Attadale but when the new motorway caused them to leave Easton he bought Arineckaig that had once been part of the Attadale estate. He was probably at his happiest there managing this small property, stalking the hills and driving the argo to the terror of his passengers, in all this he was greatly assisted by Donald Mackenzie with whom he forged a close and lasting partnership. Typically he mastered the complexities of crofting law and regretted that he could not become a crofter himself so as to enjoy their benefits. There were a series of what have been described as ¾ trained black Labradors as Gordon whilst training them felt he should not dull their characters, the most lethal of which was Berkley who thought nothing of swimming the river to attack any visiting dog.
Gordon chose to lead his life unconstrained by regular employment. This allowed him to engage in issues that interested him and in this he was fully supported by Julie who provided the perfect counterbalance thus forming an ideal partnership and indeed they were always together and rarely spent any time apart. He had an enduring passion for new ideas and loved discussing them, particularly with the young always seeking their opinions and debating with them about their futures. Our son Nicholas, no mean debater himself, nominated Gordon his favourite uncle.
Gordon has gone but his convictions, his generosity and his cheerful nature will long live on in the memory of his family and of all those who knew him. I can think of no better epitaph.
The Sermon preached by Alec Knight was as follows:
Gordon was a churchman and a thinking Christian. On the one hand he was a great and generous support to me as parish priest; also to the Bishops in two diocese; here in Winchester as a member of the Bishop’s Council and as Diocesan Treasurer in the northwest of Scotland, also I suspect, to the Archbishop when he was involved with the national church’s General Synod. On the other hand that support was never unequivocal; it often came with an awkward question about some aspect of the issue or proposal under consideration that had, in Gordon’s view, not been properly thought through. Pretty well always he could see both sides of an argument and argue eloquently for both of them. It could be very irritating when you had thought you’d got it all clear and had decided what to do. It could be a matter of belief or of Christian doctrine or of parish policy, politics or finance; they were all grist to his analytical mind.
It was for this characteristic of Gordon’s that I was pleased when Alex chose to read that familiar Henry Scott-Holland quotation which starts “ Death is nothing at all….” Because I can almost hear Gordon saying “ But that is not how you are experiencing my death right now. Right now death feels more like a catastrophe; and certainly you are not at the point of being able to laugh at the trouble of my parting.” The reality is that death is not nothing at all. It is a big deal, as it was for Jesus on the cross and for every other mortal human being when their time comes. So how come that Henry Scott-Holland, a canon of St. Paul’s cathedral, state otherwise? That we should find ourselves in this position at Gordon’s Memorial Celebration is, as a member of the family said “That is so Gordon!” with two seemingly contradictory statements about death being proclaimed ‘true’.
Things become clear when we discover that Henry Scott-Holland was preaching in St. Paul’s just after the death of The King Edward VII. He stated that both attitudes to death are equally valid even though they appear to be in contradiction. The quotation which we heard read is a part of his sermon that has been taken out of its context. The sermon faces head-on the conflicting emotions we experience at the death of someone we love and the hope that in some way we shall be reunited with the person who has died. He goes on to say that these attitudes are only reconciled by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Death is a terrible thing but it is a terrible thing that God faces for us and we face it with him and in him, in Christ. God in Christ has conquered death. It is in this sense that it can be said that ‘death is nothing at all’.
As deaths go, on the face of it, Jesus’s death was an unmitigated disaster, especially to the disciples but that disaster was totally offset by his resurrection. The grief of his disciples was turned to unbounded joy. So St. Paul can say “Where O Death is thy sting? Where O Grave is thy victory?” However as Paul says, we do not know what form our spiritual bodies will take in the life beyond. We are in an ‘in-between time’ when the reality of death is painful and yet with Christ’s victory to assure us, we know that ultimately Death will turn out to be nothing at all. In this ‘in-between’ time we are shadowed by death, yet lit by the promise of resurrection. St. John says in a letter “Beloved we are children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be.”
This is the faith with all its complexities in which Gordon died. Thanks be to God.