Sir Peter Marshall, who died on 10 June 2023 aged 98, was one of the great servants, and one of the great advocates, of the Commonwealth. He will be particularly missed by the editorial board of The Round Table, of which he was an emeritus member. In total he wrote 42 articles or book reviews for the journal, the first on the outcome of the Nassau Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1985, and the last a commentary on the coronation of King Charles III, published earlier this month.
Peter was born in Reading, Berkshire, on 30 July 1924, the son of Reginald and Winifred Marshall. His father, who had served as a lieutenant in the Northamptonshire Regiment in the First World War, was an auditor. Peter was educated at Tonbridge School before himself undertaking war service, as a navigator in the RAF from 1943 to 1946. He always counted himself lucky to survive, which added to his naturally sunny disposition and optimistic outlook.
The Coronation: An occasion for worldwide elebration
Tribute to the Queen by Sir Peter Marshall
Why the Commonwealth’s future is on the way up – A discussion with Sir Peter Marshall
After three years (1946-49) at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he read Economics, Peter joined the Diplomatic Service in 1949. His early postings included four years (1952-56) in Washington as private secretary to the ambassador, first Sir Oliver Franks then Sir Roger Makins, and later several years in Baghdad and Bangkok. His economic expertise was made use of in a series of increasingly senior appointments in Paris, Geneva and London. From 1975 to 1979 he was UK representative on the Economic and Social Council of the UN, and from 1979 to 1983 ambassador and permanent representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva. He was knighted on completion of that term.
Long a supporter of the Commonwealth, Peter became Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General (Economic) from 1983 to 1988, working closely with the Secretary-General, Shridath (Sonny) Ramphal, at a time when the Commonwealth Secretariat still had important programmes in the social and economic sphere. He was remembered by other Commonwealth diplomats as great fun, immensely charming and persuasive, but absolutely resolute in achieving his desired outcomes.
In a very long retirement Peter took on a huge number of roles, many of them Commonwealth-related. He was, inter alia, chairman of the Commonwealth Trust and the Royal Commonwealth Society (1988-92), president of Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford (1990-94), chairman of the Joint Commonwealth Societies Council (1993-2003), and patron of the Commonwealth Association (2010-).
Peter believed firmly in the Commonwealth and its potential as a force for good in the world. In his articles for The Round Table he pointed to its historical achievements; but, even in his nineties, he preferred to look forward, discerning in the twenty-first century important new opportunities for this most idiosyncratic and (potentially at least) flexible of international organisations.
Peter was married twice and widowed twice; first to Patricia Stoddart, and secondly to Judith Tomlin. He and Patricia had a son and a daughter. In his early life Peter was a keen sportsman, and even into very old age he would continue playing tennis. His greatest love was cricket, and it is appropriate that he died peacefully while watching the World Test championship on television.
Sir Peter Marshall was interviewed in 2013 by Sue Onslow for the Commonwealth Oral History Programme (https://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/5623/1/Sir_Peter_Marshall_Transcript.pdf) and in 2017 by Suzanne Ricketts for the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme (https://archives.chu.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/01/Marshall.pdf).
Peter’s Round Table articles include:
‘Whatever happened to the NIEO?’, 1994 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00358539408454216)
‘”Recessional” and the Commonwealth’, 1997 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00358539708454369)
‘Shaping the “new Commonwealth”, 1949’, 1999 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/003585399108108)
‘21st century Britain and the Commonwealth’, 2004 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0035853042000289155)
‘The Commonwealth at 60’, 2009 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00358530903151706)
‘The Commonwealth in 21st century focus’, 2014 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00358533.2014.918710)
‘The mother of all networks: Britain and the Commonwealth in the 21st century’, 2019 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00358533.2019.1565347)