Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2008-09 > 1222619089

From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] FORT: Maeve Geraldine Fort 2008
Date: Sun, 28 Sep 2008 17:24:49 +0100

Dame Maeve Fort
Ambassador in Mozambique and Lebanon who later established strong links with
Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

Last Updated: 8:39PM BST 24 Sep 2008


Maeve Fort presenting her credentials in Beirut, a dangerous posting filled
only by volunteers
Dame Maeve Fort, who died on September 18 aged 67, was one of the most
successful, popular and atypical British ambassadors of her generation.

The only child of a Liverpool hospital administrator, Maeve Geraldine Fort
was born on November 19 1940. She left Nantwich Grammar School early when
she discovered that Trinity College Dublin did not then require A-levels
from its new entrants. University contemporaries did not remember her for
her academic achievements. She habitually skipped 9 am lectures and in later
classes polishing her nails often took precedence over taking notes.

She nevertheless did well enough - graduating with a respectable degree in
English and French - to qualify for a French government scholarship to the
Sorbonne. Disregarding advice that she had no hope of getting into the
Foreign Office, she was one of 12 successful new entrants to the junior
grade in 1962.

Punctuality was never one of Maeve Fort's strong points, and one of her
early supervisors warned her that her undoubted diplomatic talents might be
negated by her inability to get where she was meant to be when she was meant
to be there.

She still sailed successfully through postings to New York, a secondment to
SEATO in Bangkok, and spells in Bonn and Lagos, before being promoted to
First Secretary in the FCO. She was then sent to the UK mission to the
United Nations in 1978.

On this second New York posting Maeve Fort was one of those dealing with
African affairs and she made her mark through her effective participation in
the sometimes confrontational Namibian Contact Group. She was hugely popular
with her colleagues from other delegations, not least the members of the
Africa Group; and though her strengths might have been more in tactics than
in strategy, she established a reputation as a tough but sensitive
negotiator who got results.

At one stage she was told to prepare for a move to the high commission in
Windhoek as part of the independence process, but after she had hosted a
party which used up the contents of her cellar, in typical FCO fashion the
posting was cancelled.

Maeve Fort left New York in 1982 for a year at the Royal College of Defence
Studies, followed by a posting to Santiago on promotion to Counsellor. In
1986 she returned to the FCO as head of the West African department and
concurrently non-resident Ambassador to Chad.

>From 1989 to 1992 she was Ambassador to Mozambique. Everyone who came to
stay at the residence was expected to bring a supply of crayons and books
for local schoolchildren. She also played a significant part in helping to
broker a ceasefire in the Mozambican Civil War and was outspoken in her
condemnation of corruption.

In 1992 she left for four years as Ambassador to the Lebanon, then one of
the most dangerous FCO posts and one that was filled only by volunteers. She
lived behind barbed-wire barricades and had a staff of Royal Military Police
bodyguards whom she referred to as "my boys". Six of them were always with
her when she went out and about, including when she went for walks in the
hills; one bodyguard would carry a knapsack containing her beloved white
Maltese/Pomeranian cross, Chloe.

In 1996 she was cross-posted to South Africa as High Commissioner, making
her the highest-ranking British female diplomat. She loved the country, as
she did all her postings, and forged real bonds of affection with President
Nelson Mandela (it is not true that she was late presenting her credentials
to him).

She established strong links with the new democracy, but was unlucky enough
to lose most of her personal possessions when builders accidentally set fire
with a blowtorch to the thatch of the Cape Town residence.

Maeve Fort always enjoyed close relations with her military and intelligence
colleagues, and her ability to extract confidences from contacts would have
made her an excellent case officer. She delighted in competing with the
intelligence community in collecting useful information, and she often won.

She was a compulsive shopper, especially for designer clothes. "You only
regret the things you didn't buy," she said; and the garments she gave to
charity were sold for useful sums. Above all she was gregarious and loved
being surrounded by people. She was compassionate and loved to help people
enjoy themselves. She laughed easily and often but quietly, as if enjoying a
private joke. Her sense of humour could border on the earthy: "Ambassadors
don't get laid," was one comment she made on her love life.

Maeve Fort was appointed CMG in 1990 and advanced to DCMG in 1998. She then
became a "double Dame", receiving the DCVO on the occasion of the Queen's
State Visit to South Africa in 1999.

She took no paid employment after retiring from the FCO but was a trustee of
the British Red Cross from 2001 to 2007 and of the Beit Trust from 2000
onwards. She was also a governor of Benenden School.

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