Brother Rory MacPherson – a memoir

In January we very sadly lost Brother Rory MacPherson who had lived at the Charterhouse since 2013.  Well known for his career as a newsreader and diplomat, he had many stories to tell, but his illness meant the stories started to disappear. Brother Gillie Bengough befriended him when she joined the Charterhouse. This is her memoir.

When I moved into the Charterhouse, the last thing on my mind was forging a close bond, let alone sharing the torment of someone who was aware that he was ‘losing his mind’, and who knew there was nothing he could do about it.  He was an independent man, who hated having to rely on others for his every need. His greatest worry for me, was that we could not do the normal things together that friends do, that his death would leave me unhappy, and as such, I should not waste my time with him.

His greatest wish was to ‘get out of here’ (life) and leave ‘all this’ behind. However, there were long periods of time when having accepted the limits of what we could do, he seemed quite happy wandering around the gardens, or joining in whatever was going on; birthday parties, barbecues, movies etc.  He had a great sense of humour, as you all know, and enjoyed the exchange of playful teasing. I learned to watch a woman dancing in the lilies, with him, or look for the little boys that he could see, playing in the garden, and listen to what one of his pictures got up to in the night. It was so sad that he lost the ability to chat with his friends, as at heart he was a very social person and loved to be with others.

He missed his son, during the first lockdown, but Hugo brought his grandchildren for a visit through the railings of the Chapel Court, and later in The Square.  Sadly, after breaking his leg and spending three weeks in UCLH, without familiar faces, he started to go downhill quite quickly. I think that Parkinson’s disease was at the root of his not being able to walk again as however hard he tried, his right foot took on a life of its own. He became thinner and frailer and spent more time in the past, holding committee meetings, or hiding from the Argentine secret service.  He had Christmas lunch with his friends in the Infirmary, and a few days later, he went into a deep sleep. He spent some days, with Hugo and me, in UCLH, while they made sure he was not suffering, and then we brought him home,to his own bed  where, after a while, he drifted away peacefully,  listening to soft recordings of his family, and with Scottish folk songs calling him away.

I had a terrible dream last night, where I drove into a village in Wales, parked my car, walked down the street and forgot completely why I was there, where my car was, or what my name or address were.  People were asking simple questions to which I did not know the answer.  It was terrifying, and when I woke up, I understood what Rory had been going through, and however much I miss him, I am pleased that he has escaped ‘all this’ at last.



Note: If you would like to read Rory MacPherson’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph you can find it here.



Recent comments

  • Dear Gillie, Many thanks for publishing your memoir of Rory. We only recently learned of his death. He was a close, if self-contained, friend, from the time we were colleagues in the British Embassy in Buenos Aires, and when he kindly was best man at my wedding there to Veronica. We will now send a line of condolence to Hugo who visited us here when he was about 4! I visited him in C’house about 2 years ago, when he insisted on escorting me to the outer gate when I left…. With renewed thanks, Michael Atkinson

  • Thank you for this kind and moving tribute from a real friend… God bless you.

  • I was very sad to read of Rory’s passing. We were secondary school colleagues in Patchells House at Glenalmond, Rory being just six months older than me. He arrived at Glenalmond one term ahead of me in 1949 and we saw a lot of each other. I knew very little of his subsequent career after seeing him quite frequently on television but I am relieved to know that latterly, at least, he was among friends. He was excellent company.

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