From Sussex school boy to
At the tender age of eight, Philip Grant Suttie inherited a baronetcy in Scotland. He went on to become master of his estate and live a wonderfully acentric life
By KATE JAIMET and AILEEN McCABE
Sir Philip Grant Suttie fit the picture of a romantic country squire. Tall, handsome, athletic, dashing, he flew planes, drove fast cars, hunted foxes and charmed women.
Yet it was only the luck of inheritance that turned this ordinary lad from Sussex, New Brunswick, into the eighth Baronet of Balgone. That he was born and raised in small-town Canada probably ensured he would be no ordinary Scottish lord with a rough burr of a voice and a hearty frame swathed in scratchy tweeds stuck with heather.
About the only ordinary thing he did in his life, it seems, was to die peacefully from complications after a hip operation.
As his son and heir, the 32-year-old Sir James, put it: "He died unspectacularly which was ironic really. You always expected him to crash a car or a plane or something."
Sir Philip died last November at a young and active 58. A shock, according to Sir James, mitigated only by the fact that "he was probably never going to make it to real old age. He'd used up quite a few of his lives already. "He flew a lot and he did crash the odd aircraft."
Sir James remembers one of the mishaps, when, lost in a dense fog, his father ditched his light aircraft on a remote Scottish beach; It was "a major crash," he recalls. His father broke a leg, an arm, his nose and his face was all cut up.
Still, there was nothing to do but to set out walking as best he could through the moors to find help. Exhausted, bleeding and in screaming pain, he reached a road only to find the passing cars gave him a wide berth.
"Everyone thought he was drunk," Sir James laughs.
Sir Philip was one of those larger than life figures that people always enjoy knowing and knowing, about and it is a pity most Canadians never had the chance. Although everyone from kilometres around attended his funeral in North Berwick, they were all Scots celebrating the life of a man Sir James claims never thought of himself as a Scotsman.
"He was always a proud Canadian."
Even to the ear of his own son, "he had a curious accent. It wasn't Scottish, it was Canadianified. I remember he said tomato instead of toMAto."
Sir James muses now that his father may have consciously kept his Canadian voice. "He liked to be different. He was an eccentric - in the nicest possible way. "
Certainly the procession of women in his life made him a bit of "an eccentric" in the small North Sea community of North Berwick, about 45 kilometres east of Edinburgh.
Sir James remembers that after his parents were divorced in 1969, his tall, handsome father "was engaged two or three times to various women" and less formally attached to many more, although he never made it to the altar again. "I think he realized he wasn't cut out to be married."
He wasn't cut out to be alone, either, despite the fact an Edinburgh tabloid newspaper once fails to recognize that fairly obvious fact or appreciate his humour when he talked about it.
After persistent media attention, Sir Philip denied he was romantically involved with the wife of a neighboring landowner who had moved into a cottage on his estate.
"I knew people would start saying this as soon as she moved in, but we are not having a romance," Sir Philip had said. "She's very lovely, but she's not my cup of tea. I am far too old, too quirky and too grumpy."
Tongue in cheek, he added: "And what's more, I've been celibate for years."
People who knew him enjoyed the absurdity, but the tabloid took him at his word. When days later it caught him with a very attractive model on his arm, it splashed his picture all over the front page as if it were news.
Sir Philip was eight and living in Newfoundland with his mother and stepfather when his heritage caught up with him. Far away in Scotland, the 7th Baronet of Balgone had died without marrying and the line of inheritance to the 1702 Nova Scotia (as in New Scotland, not the province) baronetcy took a sharp curve to settle on the only son of his cousin George. He had emigrated to Canada after the war, married a Newfoundland girl and died soon afterwards.
Sir James says he doesn't really know the exact story of what happened next, but with death duties and crippling mortgages outstanding on the estate, it seems likely Sir Philip's family didn't consider he had just won the lottery. Indeed, they later moved to Sussex where Philip went to high school. It wasn't until 1954, when he was 16, that he crossed the Atlantic to catch sight of his inheritance.
It was a fleeting glimpse before returning to the normalcy of life in New Brunswick.
His high-school friends in Sussex remember his as a good natured carouser.
"We used to take off, Johnny Hay and me and him, have a little drink of wine and go hunting rabbits," recalls his high-school friend Jim Webster. "You wouldn't have noticed any difference between him and me. Nobody sure as hell called him Sir Philip over here. He didn't dare pull any of that title stuff. That don't wash too good around here. He tried to be a charmer with the ladies, but I don't know how he made out. No better than the rest of us I guess."
"He was a good fellow, lackadaisical. He liked to party," remembers Mr. Hay. "He liked women, even in high school."
After high school, Philip, enrolled in agriculture at McGill University in Montreal and began preparing to take up his responsibilities.
As it turned out, farming was not something that wildly interested him, but he was obviously good at it and a shrewd enough businessman to dig his Scottish estate out from a mountain of debt within a few years of taking charge in 1960, aged 21.
For some people in Sussex, it seemed the young man had disappeared into the blue. But others kept in touch, like his schoolmate Dot Pearson.
Ms. Pearson, who now manages the Charm jewelry boutique in Sussex, visited Sir Philip on his estate just before Christmas, 1977.
"He picked me up at the airport in Edinburgh in his two-seater aircraft," Ms. Pearson recalls. " He was a nice-looking, handsome guy, very tall. He hadn't changed much since he lived here."
As the plane neared the landing strip, Ms. Pearson caught her first glimpse of Sir Philip's living quarters.
"It was huge. It looked like a big farmhouse, but more like a castle," she remembers. "They lived a pretty different life over there, pretty high society. Beautiful food and cases of champagne. Every night you went out for dinner, unless he was entertaining."
In the two weeks that she stayed there, Ms. Pearson saw her old school friend's life-style as a sometimes incongruous mixture: the rustic life of a farmer mixed with the glamour of nobility.
"Except for the champagne and the Christmas parties, they live very plain lives," she says. "When I was there, he didn't have a washer or a dryer. He didn't have all the modern conveniences that we were used to. But when he served a meal it was on a beautiful china plate. They lived very simple lives, but very elegant."
Sir Philip loved to see anyone from Canada, especially from Sussex. And when he visited Sussex, Ms. Pearson and her husband hosted a party of old friends for him.
"Canada was very much his roots and he never saw Scotland as his proper home," Sir James says. "Canada was what he thought of as home. "
Today, Sheriff Hall, where Sir Philip lived most of his adult life; the nearby modern, "Canadian house," complete with swimming pool, that he built for himself a decade ago in the shell of an old horse barn, a mill and a granary; the 16 rental cottages, the various farm buildings, the stands of conifers and hardwoods, the shining lochs and rolling fields that comprise the 1,000-acre estate look handsomely prosperous.
From a high hill near Sheriff Hall - a cozy stone farmhouse with a grand name - you can easily see one of the costs of that prosperity, Balgone Hall.
It's the imposing Grant Suttie family seat that Sir Philip never lived in. Two ancient "aunties" were in residence when Sir Philip arrived from Canada and he left them to its crumbling glory.
His priorities reflected his new world upbringing, not the old world gentry whose ranks he joined. He wanted his estate to prosper and that's where he put his time and money. "The pile" and all the trappings of class it represented, were not important to him.
Still, when the "aunties" died, he and his son faced a difficult decision. Did they sink millions into restoring Balgone Hall, the bricks and mortar of their family history, leave it to rot, or sell it!
Even today you can hear the defensiveness in Sir James's voice as he explains their decision to sell in 1990.
At the time, nobody openly complained about the upstart Canadian with no sense of history, but Sir James still bristles when he recounts the criticism that was voiced about a family that would let its heritage go to such ruin and then sell it off.
That trade-off built the thriving farm that Sir Philip gave to his son to manage the day James graduated in agriculture from Aberdeen University in 1988.
"He was bored by the arable farming, the estate side was his passion," Sir James says.
Sir Philip loved the trees and the small forestry business he built up, looking after the estate cottages and keeping his ponds and roads and ancient stone walls in shape.
When Sir Philip arrived from Canada, the neighboring gentry naturally adopted him as one of their own. He never particularly shared their life-style, but he enjoyed their company and he loved entertaining them. Every year, Sir Philip hosted a "shoot" for the neighbours - pheasants, pigeons, ducks and the like.
"Occasionally he'd come out and shoot with them, but not always," his son recalls. "He wasn't your country gentleman in tweeds."
From all accounts, Sir Philip much preferred to cook the fruits of the sport for his friends and crack open a bottle of good wine to wash it down.
There are countless stories of him in the kitchen. He was no gourmet cook, rather a man who , liked to put food on his table so people would enjoy it and he could enjoy their company. But he abhorred fuss and advice so built himself a tiny kitchen in his modern "Canadian house" so no one could come in and help. He roared his disapproval when they did.
For Sir James, the most memorable of his father's meals was the one that stretched a single chicken to feed 17 people. The friends kept coming and so, miraculously, did the bird.
"He was a terribly generous father who ultimately gave me the chance to run the estate and live up to his high standards," Sir James said. "It's a big challenge for me to live up to."
Sir Philip left behind his son and two young grandsons, his succession ensured. According to his great friend James Hunter Blair, he also left "an estate in better order than he found it and a great many friends by whom he will be most sadly missed. "
(Sir Philip Grant Suttie, eighth Baronet of Balgone, 20 December, 1938 7 November, 1997.)
Aileen McCabe is a reporter for Southam News. Kate Jaimet works in The Telegraph Journals Moncton bureau.