RICHARD MUIR (1942-2023) – OBITUARY AND TRIBUTE FOR THE BRITISH-OMANI SOCIETY
Richard John Sutherland Muir was born in 1942, into a family active in the paper industry. He went to the Stationers Company School in Hornsey, and took a degree in French at Reading University.
He joined the Diplomatic Service in 1964 for a career almost entirely geographically focussed on the Middle East, and particularly the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf. In 1965 he went to MECAS, the Foreign Office Arabic language school then located in Lebanon. In 1966 he and Caroline were married and she joined him there. Postings followed to Jedda, Tunis, the Middle East desk in Washington, and secondment to Norman Lamont’s Department of Energy to bring Middle East expertise to the Department. In 1981 he was posted to Riyadh, followed by a spell in London as Head of the FCO’s Information Department and then Principal Finance Officer for the FCO. He was awarded the CMG in 1993.
His association with Oman began with his appointment as Ambassador to Muscat in 1994, exactly halfway through the reign of His Late Majesty Sultan Qaboos. He and Caroline were the first incumbents of the new Ambassador’s Residence, the acquisition and construction of which had been overseen by his predecessor Terry Clark. Aware that the old Residence in Muscat Bay was to be demolished both worked to ensure that contents and design features which could be removed, notably the nineteenth century Indian tiles which are a distinctive feature of the Residence today, were moved. He developed close personal and working relations with senior Omanis and had regular audiences with Sultan Qaboos. He welcomed several British Royal visitors including the current King, then Prince of Wales, and his father, the late Duke of Edinburgh. He devoted much time and energy to building up the Oman-British Friendship Association (OBFA), the bilateral body set up in the late 1980s to promote business relationships between the two countries. He was widely respected, liked, and admired for his work sustaining and building on the relationship between the Britain and Oman in the relatively stable decade between the First Gulf War and 9/11.
He moved in 1999 to become Ambassador in Kuwait and retired from there in 2002. In 2004 he again succeeded Terry Clark, this time as Chairman of the Anglo-Omani Society, a position he held until 2012. That period in the Society’s history under his leadership was marked by the realisation that in the long term it needed to focus not just on being a vehicle to sustain the interest of people who had lived and worked in Oman, but also on creating a sense of involvement among young people in both countries. This process gave birth to the ongoing Gap Year secondments to the Sultan’s School, which now have over 100 alumni, and to the foundation of the Society’s New Generation Group. The Society celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2007 with a Reception at Lancaster House attended by the then Prince of Wales and His Highness Sayyid Shihab.
During this period he contributed the chapter on the British Embassy in Kuwait to ‘British Missions around the Gulf 1525-2005’ edited by Terry Clark and published in 2008. In 2012, to commemorate the 40th Anniversary oof Sultan Qaboos’s rule, he revised and updated Sir Donald Hawley’s authoritative survey of Oman ancient and modern originally published in 1977.
However Richard’s most enduring mark on the Society is his oversight of the acquisition of its home at 34 Sackville street. This emerged from the wish of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos to move from ad hoc Omani support for the Society’s work to the creation of a permanent home in Central London which would both house its activities and generate an income stream to fund them. In consultation with the then Omani Ambassador in London, His Excellency Hussein Abdullatif, Richard oversaw the process which led to the identification and purchase of 34 Sackville Street in 2009, funded by the Government of Oman, and its adaptation and occupation by the Society in 2010. The timing was fortuitously excellent – at the bottom of the market following the 2008 crash. The process also involved a change in the status of the Society from a charity to a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. Richard’s successors as Chairman of the Society have been well aware, and duly appreciative, of the solid platform which he created in those years, both physically and institutionally.
After his retirement as Chairman Richard became a Vice President of the Society and remained actively involved in its affairs. He was awarded the Al Noman order first class by Sultan Qaboos in 2013. His successors over the following decade enjoyed much wise counsel from him on Oman and the Gulf more widely. More recently, and indeed until a matter of days before his sudden death in October 2023, he focussed particularly on supporting the development of relations between the State Council in Oman and the House of Lords. During this period he also contributed quietly but significantly, to understanding of the wider Gulf area through his work with the Al Tajir Trust and the William Luce Fund at Durham University. The academically impressive volumes on Gulf history sponsored by the former during the 2010s are another lasting mark of his lifelong commitment to the contemporary ties between the two areas.
To conclude on a personal note, I had the pleasure of benefitting from Richard’s personal qualities at three separate times in my own career. In the mid 1970s, in Tehran as the stresses of the then Shah’s regime became apparent, I enjoyed his incisive and insightful analyses of thinking in Washington in the Kissinger White House and elsewhere. Fifteen years later his administrative skills and dogged attention to detail greatly helped me as we worked together on funding issues of the BBC World Service and the British Council. Finally, his understanding of, and contacts in, Oman underpinned the efforts of the Trustees during my own chairmanship in the process of seeing how the Society can best contribute to the wide range of elements which together make up the ongoing tapestry of relations between the two countries. Ever modest and unassuming, he will be greatly missed.
Robert Alston, November 2023.