Obituary: Richard Rothery OBE, Brigadier who served in Northern Ireland during The Troubles

Died: June 20, 2021.

BRIGADIER Richard Rothery, who has died aged 86, was a distinguished member of the military, serving in troubled areas that often required sound judgment and diplomatic understanding, especially Northern Ireland.

On retiring, he was appointed bursar of The Edinburgh Academy, where he is fondly remembered for his gracious manner and ability to overcome all problems.

When he retired in 2000, his achievements at the Academy were recognised by the rector of the time, John Light, who wrote: “The Academy owes Richard and [his wife] Pam Rothery a huge debt of gratitude for their hard work, their positive manner and above all shafts of humour. Dick’s contribution in his years here has been massive.”

Richard Campbell Rothery was born on the Isle of Wight, the son of Alec and Lorna Rothery. He grew up in Kent but the school masters and pupils were evacuated to Cornwall at the outbreak of war. He then attended St Edmund’s School, Canterbury.

He joined the Royal East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) in 1952 to do his national service but was keen to travel and heard that the Royal Irish Fusiliers – known as the Faughs – were about to be sent to Korea, so he applied for a national service commission with them. Among the regiment’s duties in post-war Korea was the repair of damaged communications.

The regiment was sent to Kenya, where Rothery decided to sign on as a regular. In 1956, he was battalion intelligence officer with a successful contact with Mau Mau fighters in the Mara’ngishu area.

In the 1960s, he was sent to various important assignments – to Eglinton in Derry (where he was appointed adjutant); to Germany with the 7th Armoured Brigade; to Borneo with the 99 Gurkha Brigade; and to Hong Kong and Catterick.

In 1972, he was posted to the Ministry of Defence, just after direct rule had been imposed on Northern Ireland by Ted Heath’s Conservative Hovernment. The move entailed, among other things, the transfer of all legislative and executive powers from Stormont to Westminster. Heath spoke of the “grievous suffering inflicted upon the innocent people of Northern Ireland by the continuing campaign of lawless terrorism”.

Rothery fulfilled a crucial role in security in the province.

He was promoted to Lt Colonel and appointed commander of the Royal Irish Rangers Depot at Ballymena. It was a torrid time, with the Ulster Workers’ Council calling for total strikes. At one stage, Rothery had to make arrangements for 250 naval personnel who had been imported to operate the power stations.

Ballymena was in a state of serious unrest and the Rev Ian Paisley was threatening to hold demonstrations in the centre of the town during an army parade. Rothery had the unenviable task of keeping Paisley in the regiment’s quarters as a token gesture, confining him to the tennis court. “Dick, as ever, smoothed things over and diffused the situation brilliantly,” Major Michael Robjohn, who also served with the regiment, told The Herald.

“He even invited the reverend to take tea in his own office. That was typical of Dick: a very modest and practical man – it was the nature of the beast. Loyal to his friends and proud of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, he was a tremendous friend and a wonderful fellow officer.”

In 1981, Rothery was awarded the OBE and in 1983 he was mentioned in dispatches.

After another spell at the Ministry of Defence he was posted back to Northern Ireland as Deputy Commander 39 Brigade, when the hunger strikes were at their height. He found himself on many of dangerous night patrols.

After promotion to Brigadier in 1985, he served in Bangladesh and at the Staff College before his final posting as Assistant Commandant at Sandhurst, where he controlled a budget of £245 million.

Between 1981 and 1986, Rothery served as Deputy Colonel of the Royal Irish Rangers, a post that necessitated the fostering of good relations in the community. He proved a more than ideal appointment.

In 1989, he was appointed bursar of The Edinburgh Academy. He had to cope with many serious problems – rampant dry rot in the school’s principal buildings, the collapse of the dining hall ceiling on, of all days, New Year’s Day 1995, and the unexpected departure of a rector after only three years.

Rothery was a brilliant organiser and, calling upon the diverse skills he had acquired in his time with the military, he oversaw the detailed arrangements required for many high-profile school events.

Among these was the opening, in 1999, by the Princess Royal of the new games hall, which had been largely funded by a former pupil, Eric Stevenson.

A former member of staff told The Herald: “Dick was a very effective Bursar, making a huge contribution to the school and was immensely fond of, and loyal to, the school. He was indeed a character.”

He and Pam Sharp met in their youth and married in 1959. They retired to the village of Gifford in East Lothian where he was an active member of the community and influential in raising funds for the restoration of the fine kirk in the village. He also served as a governor of Yester Primary School.

An annual pride and joy of his was his entry (often prize-winning) of his sweet peas at the Gifford Show.

Rothery, a man of much warmth, charm and courtesy, is survived by Pam , their daughter and two sons.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992