Duchess pays tribute to 'a true gentleman'

Ian August with the Duchess of Northumberland at a joint book signing at The Alnwick Garden.
Ian August with the Duchess of Northumberland at a joint book signing at The Alnwick Garden.
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The Duchess of Northumberland has led the tributes to her right-hand man during the creation of The Alnwick Garden, after his death yesterday at the age of 75.

Ian August MBE, who lived at Lesbury, spent his entire career at Alnwick Castle, starting from age 15 as a trainee draughtsman and culminating in his role as project director for the Garden and Treehouse. He worked alongside the Duchess and designers to build the entire attraction from it’s inception right up until the present day.

The Alnwick Garden head gardener Trevor Jones and Ian August receive a Northumbria In Bloom gold award in 2014.

The Alnwick Garden head gardener Trevor Jones and Ian August receive a Northumbria In Bloom gold award in 2014.

"Ian was a true gentleman. He was respected, loved and admired by everyone who had the good fortune to know him," said the Duchess.

"He possessed extraordinary, natural skills of charm, tact, politeness and diplomacy; skills which are often overlooked in the 21st century but which I witnessed Ian using time and time again to great effect in all kinds of difficult situations.

"I travelled the world with Ian over a 10-year period giving 400 lectures about The Alnwick Garden and he became a true and loyal friend to me. His book, The Making of The Alnwick Garden, explains the vital role he played in supporting me during the past 20 years and I am certain that I could never have built The Alnwick Garden without having had Ian by my side.

"He was always there for me through the good times, when we celebrated together and the bad times when he would cheer me up with words of wisdom and support. I am so sad that he won't be with me to see The Alnwick Garden completed but I believe he'll still be watching every move I make with interest and will be keeping me on the right track. I am sure that in the future I will stop and ask myself 'what would Ian think?' before committing to anything.

"Family was all-important to Ian, he was a justifiably proud husband and father and my thoughts at this very sad time are with his wife, Ann and Philippa and Simon, his two children."

Today, staff at the Garden were invited to wear black as a mark of respect and, according to volunteer Tom Pattinson, the Gazette's gardening correspondent and a friend of Ian's, there was a sombre air about the venue.

Tom said "Ian was a lovely man, a true friend and one of nature`s gentlemen. Everyone at The Alnwick Garden is in shock because we have lost one of our own so suddenly, but it is certain we are not alone in missing his reassuring presence."

When Ian started at the Castle, he was mainly involved in drawing up plans and buildings for Northumberland Estates' farms.

He then became a fully qualified architect and became clerk of works, running the team which looked after the building side of the business, as well as liaising with the forestry, gamekeeping and farming departments.

Along the way, he was also appointed head of security and in film liaison for movies such as Elizabeth and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

Ian travelled the world with the Duchess helping to raise funds and bring awareness of the Garden to a global audience with his formal presentations. Even though he officially retired a few years ago, he still worked on a consultancy basis as garden liaison director and was at the venue every week.

Ian received an MBE from the Queen in December 2011 for services to the community and, alongside the Duchess, presented The Alnwick Garden to the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles on previous occasions.

Ian was born and raised in Sharpthorne, Sussex, moving to Northumberland when he was 11 to live at Newton on the Moor. He married Ann on August 7, 1965, and the couple had two children - Simon, now 42, and Philippa, 39.

Family homes included a farmhouse at Friars Well and in Alnwick. Ann and Ian have always loved dogs and had labradors and terriers throughout their marriage, walking faithful companion Norfolk terrier Titch two miles on the beach at Seaton Point every day.

Ian was an accomplished watercolour painter, having held sold-out exhibitions both locally and in America. His other interests included drawing, gardening, singing with the Alnwick Community Choir and supporting Newcastle United through thick and thin.

In 2010, Ann and Ian moved to Lesbury, where he led the village's volunteer gardeners in their quest for floral glory in the Northumbria in Bloom competition.

Ian's family said: "He was a very calm and positive person, incredibly selfless and always put others before himself. He had an amazing zest for life and was so passionate about The Alnwick Garden. He was heavily involved in the community and is incredibly missed by an enormous number of people. He had the most amazing life."

Tom Pattinson added: "I could not have wished for a better friendship than that shared with Ian since the early 1960s when, as a teenager, he was based in Northumberland Estates offices at Alnwick Castle. Over the intervening years, I have come to appreciate his professional expertise, self-effacing character, communication skills and deep humanity towards others.

"As clerk of works, he won the respect of the Percy family, tenant farmers and estate workers alike. He could have retired after 40 years of distinguished service with success ringing in his ears but instead chose to join the Duchess Jane in 1996, and play a key role in developing a garden that they were both determined to make a world-wide attraction.

"This project really energised Ian every time it arose in conversation, and those close to him knew that the journey was far from plain sailing, but his advisory and communication skill shone through it all. One disgruntled visitor was pointed in Ian`s direction, Ian listened to the complaint then responded in a calm, positive way. Satisfied, the fellow signed up as a friend of the garden before leaving."