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Remembering Lady Natasha Gourlay (1921 - 2018)

24 July 2018

By Keith Clark, former Executive Director of UWC International

Natasha Gourlay, who has died at the age of 97, was a familiar face within the UWC movement from the mid-1970s until well into the present century. She came to know of UWC through her husband, Sir Ian Gourlay. Ian served as UWC’s Director General from 1975 to 1990, and both he and Natasha travelled extensively  throughout the movement during an important period of its growth and development.

Natasha had a remarkable life. Her family had been prominent in Russia but were émigrés in London when Natasha was born in 1920. The early part of her life was in circumstances very different to those her parents would have known previously. She nonetheless developed many talents, perhaps the most notable of which was for tennis, and she played at the Wimbledon Championships in 1948 and 1949. 

She served with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry during World War II and afterwards was posted to Hong Kong. At a wedding reception she sat next to Ian - a serendipitous meeting, since Ian had been drafted in at the last minute to fill an empty seat. Natasha and Ian were married in 1948 and were together for almost 65 years until Ian’s death in 2013.

Ian had served with great distinction during World War II and a series of interesting and challenging positions eventually led to him becoming Commandant General of the Royal Marines in the 1970s. He is still regarded as one of the finest of all officers to have held that position. Then Lord Mountbatten, President of the UWC movement at the time, persuaded Ian to become UWC’s Director General, following in the tradition of former senior military officers who had seen the horrors of war and believed fervently that education was the key to peace in the future.

Natasha was alongside Ian during his final 27 years in the Royal Marines and then throughout his UWC career. She was fond of telling the story of their very first official UWC commitment. After a visit to UWC Atlantic College, Ian’s head had (much to his surprise) been turned by UWC and he realised that this was the organisation for him. The Gourlays were invited to lunch at Lord Mountbatten’s family home, Broadlands, to discuss terms. They arrived, appropriately attired for a formal lunch, only to find Mountbatten in the pool; they were offered swimwear, and the meeting proceeded.

In appearance, it may have seemed that Natasha filed the role of the wife of a senior military officer and took on a similar role during Ian’s UWC career. She was indeed indispensably supportive to Ian, but as friends in the UWC movement soon came to find out, that was by no means the whole story. She had a sharp wit, and used that to convey her own strong views in ways that hit their mark all the more accurately as a result. Her great sense of fun transmitted easily to those around her. She certainly shared Ian’s very strong commitment to UWC, which continued long beyond his retirement. Natasha was held in great affection around the UWC movement.

After Ian’s death, Natasha took great comfort in her family, all of whom survive her - a son and daughter, Michael and Ann, five grandchildren and great grandchildren (a further great grandchild was born a week after her death). She liked to keep up-to-date with UWC news, and especially enjoyed telling some of the many tales of the extraordinary situations and characters she and Ian encountered during their UWC life. She will be missed by her many UWC friends. She remained in remarkably good health and died peacefully after a short illness.