Caudill, Director of The Scottish Center at St. Andrews College in
Laurinburg, North Carolina, emailed recently that Hugh Douglas had
died. It was not going to be a good day! Another friend was gone!
That all too familiar feeling that most of us know when we reach the
"September of our years" immediately popped up in my gut. I never
met Hugh in person or had the honor of looking him in the eye as we
shook hands. I never had the opportunity to capture first hand that
ever-present twinkle in his eyes; the sparkle that told you here was
a good man. We conversed via the Internet and through that forgotten
and out-dated form of communication - the letter.
I reviewed his book, Robert Burns: A Tinder
Heart for the 2002 Christmas issue of The Family Tree.Ive been a big fan of Hugh Douglas for years, and I plan to
review A Right Royal Christmas this year. So, it is difficult
for me to write about Hugh Douglas without writing about his books.
I have most of the 15 books Hugh wrote and have read them all. They
are excellent and worthy of your library. He was, in my opinion, one
of Scotlands greatest writers. The Scottish community around the
world will greatly miss him and his writing skills.
Hugh Douglas was a modest, gracious and humble
man, as evidenced by the following. Upon receipt of the above
mentioned book review on The Tinder Heart, Hugh immediately
fired off an email to me with this opening sentence: "Review
received - who is this chap you are writing about? Not Burns, the
other one. Im truly flattered if a trifle embarrassed." On another
occasion he wrote: "Many thanks for the copies of The Family Tree -
fascinating! Im enjoying them." He was polite, cheerful and
In a recent email, Ivan Howlett, Editor of BBC
Radios Making History, stated that in "reading Frank
Shaws review of The Tinder Heart, I cannot but agree with
every word of it. I came across Hugh a few years ago and was so
taken with his work that he was a regular guest on the radio
programme I edit and produce. Sadly, Hugh died suddenly, a fortnight
ago. He was in Venice with his wife on holiday. His last radio
interview, a brief one, is about The Tinder Heart Thought
youd like to know."
The humor of Hugh Douglas was ever present. Even
in print he had a way of making me smile and chuckle. In a follow-up
email, Mr. Howlett recalled, "Hugh was such a funny man. I remember
him smiling ruefully about the bookshop he had opened in
Peterborough. Ouch, he sighed, I didnt realize they couldnae
read in Peterborough.
Here are a few lines from the obituary that
appeared in THE SCOTSMAN about Hugh. "His first job
was with the Glasgow Bulletin, from where he moved
south to the London evening newspaper, the Star, as a
sub-editor. After ten years in daily journalism, and disillusioned
with Fleet Street - but with a newspapermans thirst for facts - he
determined to spend the rest of his life unearthing hitherto
little-known information. He chose topics ranging from the history
of Londons Underground - The Underground Story - to the
grisly exploits of the Scottish body-snatchers in Burke and Hare,
the True Story Scotland
remained his main source of inspiration...While
pursuing the solitary occupation of a writer, he took care to keep
contact with a wide circle of friends from the newspaper and public
relations world "
Like one of the great loves of his life, Robert
Burns, Hugh was born in Aryshire. The remains of Burns father lie
in the auld kirk yard at Alloway. When I asked who in his family was
buried there at the kirk yard Hugh replied, " it is my
great-grandfather who is buried at Alloway. Also other ancestors
dating back to Burns time."
Frank McLynn, who wrote The Jacobite Army in
England, 1745 (Reviewed in The Family Tree April/May
2001) penned the following about Hugh Douglas for the Glasgow
Herald: "Although an avid Scotophile, Douglas chose to
retire to Peterborough in Northamptonshire. He liked to point out
that Scots were of two kinds: those (like his hero Burns) who could
not flourish outside the homeland, and the much larger species
(including James Boswell, Robert Louis Stevenson, and David
Livingstone) who flourished only when they were removed from
Scotlands soil. Douglas clearly belonged in the latter class, but
there could be no doubting his commitment to the land of his birth.
By all accounts he was a lover of life, and his personal Internet
page shows him beaming and laughing Douglass heart was in the
Highlands (FRS: that sentence is familiar to all Burnsians) Douglas
was an optimist who would have endorsed Stevensons famous lines:
The world is so full of a number of things Im sure we should all
be as happy as kings."
Frank McLynn went on to say that "the sudden
death of the author Hugh Douglas, while on vacation in Venice, ends
the career of a prolific late starter". The writer in THE
SCOTSMAN concluded that "he never tired under the weight of
the extensive research involved" in writing books, and he referred
to Mr. Douglas as "something of a workaholic". Personally, Im sure
Hugh would have something amusing to say about dying in Venice while
on holiday. He would consider the irony too much to let it pass
without a quip.
My thanks to Ivan Howlett for providing me with
some of the above material. Ivan wrote: "I live in Suffolk, only a
couple of hours drive from Peterborough, and I went to the funeral.
Sheelagh, his wife, is being very strong and read one of the
lessons. There is no such thing as a good funeral, but this was
close as you could get to one. There was a warmth, and you could
sense that people were there because it had been both a privilege
and fun to have known him."
Hugh Douglas is survived by his wife, Sheelagh,
and their children, Eithne and Jake, as well as a host of friends
around the world who join me in expressing condolences to the
Thanks, Hugh, for all the scholarly writing you
did for us and for working your brand of magic by making those
scholarly books so readable for, as Burns would say, "the common
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