Sir John Graham GCMG

johnnyatninety1926 – 2019

Sir John Graham, universally known as Johnny, was born in Calcutta where his family had a trading business which included founding the famous Graham’s Port. Sent home to prep school at an early age, he was teased for having yellow pyjamas – proper Indian pyjamas – until his grandmother rescued him with the regulation striped version. He went on to be a Scholar at both Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. His father, Sir Reginald Graham, had won the Victoria Cross in Mesopotamia in the First World War and Johnny, though an officer in the Grenadier Guards at the end of the Second World War, decided on a career in the Diplomatic Service.

Postings took him to Washington, Baghdad and Brussels among other places. Along the way he had to deal with some notorious characters, including Saddam Hussain, Robert Mugabe, Ian Smith and the Republican Guard in Iran.

It was as Private Secretary to Foreign Secretaries that Johnny became best known in Whitehall – Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Selwyn Lloyd, Michael Stewart and Alec Douglas Home. The Private Secretary is the key link in conveying the policy and wishes of the Foreign Secretary to officials and vice versa. Johnny did this to perfection with great tact, charm and precision which is why five Foreign Secretaries chose him to be their right hand man.

He went as Ambassador to NATO in 1982 at a particularly tense time in East/West relations with missile deployments either side of the Iron Curtain. The ageing Soviet leadership mistakenly feared a pre-emptive nuclear strike. It was the steadfastness of Graham and his generation of colleagues and politicians that persuaded the Russians that arms limitation negotiations were the best policy.

He was awarded the Grand Cross on the Order of St Michael and St George, the highest honour for Foreign Service.

Jane writes:
We were both widowed so we married in 1992. Our arrival in Shipton was a great homecoming after our wandering lives and the first time Johnny was to live anywhere for more than five years. We felt so welcome.

Johnny involved himself in various village activities becoming treasurer and patron of the tennis club, treasurer of St Mary’s Church and president of the local Conservative party, selling poppies and, unforgettably, being a commuter in the Shipton Christmas pantomime! He was also proud of ‘his’ lime tree in the Wild Garden.

We enjoyed 27 very happy and peaceful years in this warm community. One of the staff at The Old Prebendal where Johnny spent his final few weeks commented:

“He was a true gentleman – it’s sad we don’t see his kind anymore.”

April – May 2020