John MacAuslan obituary

Other lives: Treasury civil servant who tackled debt crises in the 1970s

My father, John MacAuslan, who has died aged 66 after being diagnosed with myeloma, worked for HM Treasury, the National Gallery and as a civil service commissioner. He believed in public service, and used his huge intellect with extraordinary compassion, integrity and wisdom to enrich and strengthen many debates, institutions and, particularly, people. He had a spectacular ability to coax out and connect the profound and interesting.

John’s professional life began with HM Treasury (from around 1977 to 1994), working to stabilise the economy following debt crises (and, typically curious, taking a short secondment to a piezoelectric company in Swindon). He became director of administration at the National Gallery from 1994 to 2006, where he relished the challenges, being surrounded by wonderful art and making it accessible to all. He was appointed a civil service commissioner (2005-10), working to sustain civil service impartiality.

Always modest, John improved institutions wherever he went. “Retiring” to Wiltshire in 2010, he became a governor of Pewsey Vale school, box office manager for a music festival, village history archivist, fundraiser and much more. In Bosnia he encountered the charity War Child, with which he worked for several years. He became a trustee of the Pilsdon Community in Dorset. In India he visited Seva Mandir, an NGO founded by my wife’s great-grandfather, becoming involved as a fundraiser. He chaired the London Society for the Study of Religion.

Born in Paddington, London, to Jack MacAuslan, a solicitor, and Constance (nee Hume), briefly a librarian, John was educated at Charterhouse and Merton College, Oxford, after which he spent a year teaching in India and Germany. He refined a lifelong love of thought – spanning music, art, literature, philosophy, science and religion. Able to see connections invisible to others, he turned his love of music and philosophy into a brilliant PhD and book, Schumann’s Music and ETA Hoffmann’s Fiction, in 2016, and articles and a podcast about Mozart, Brahms, Schumann and Aristotle. People shared ideas with him on everything from conservation and Indian folk art to corporate governance in Australia.

Dad was kind, generous, patient, brave and loyal, and loved thoughtful conversation with people of all ages and backgrounds. He was inspirational to everyone who met him, opening doors that few could see. His use of a wheelchair as a paraplegic, following a hang-gliding accident aged 25, was not something that you noticed, he wore it so lightly.

At every stage of his wonderfully varied life he formed deep and lasting friendships. He is survived by his wife, Karen (nee Wallace), whom he met at Oxford in 1971 and married in 1979, his granddaughters, Amilya and Nyra, his brother, Harry, his mother and me.

Ian MacAuslan

The GuardianTramp

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