Eddie Duckworth, diplomat, writer and all-round wit, dies in Athens at age 78

By Paris Tacopoulos Eddie Duckworth, who died on Saturday in an Athens hospital at the age of 78, was born in Athens in November 1923, of an English father (also a diplomat and a scholar and a close friend of Alexander Pallis) and a French mother (who was part of all the Greek literary circles of her time, and became a teacher after her husband’s early death). Duckworth matriculated in 1940 at the British Embassy School in Psychico. He joined the British army mission in Greece in late 1940 as a volunteer at the age of 17 and was made an honorary second lieutenant. He was put in charge of a military transport convoy and, as he said, inadvertently helped the Luftwaffe by loading the Clan Fraser, a military transport ship, with explosives from the base at Tatoi at the end of April, 1941. They waited until he had finished, and then blew it up, taking half of Piraeus with it. This did not deter the ungrateful Germans from taking him prisoner early in the morning on May 6, 1941, and keeping him in solitary confinement in Averoff Prison for three months on charges of espionage. After this, he spent four years in various prison camps in Greece, Germany, Austria and Bavaria (Krems, Buchenwald, Moosburg, Dachau, Spittal, Laufen). During the last two years of his captivity, he was able to read history and English literature in Laufen, Upper Bavaria, under a number of very distinguished professorial fellow-prisoners who had been captured when the Germans occupied the Channel Islands. He became an established member of the Foreign Service after serving from 1945 at the Consulate of Piraeus, and also teaching literature and English, and was appointed commercial attache, with diplomatic rank, in 1961, a post which he held with considerable success until the date of his retirement. In 1965, he was made a Member of the British Empire (as were the Beatles). From 1976 to 1989, he was president of the Hellenic Animal Welfare Society with Helen Vlachos as his vice president. During the years of the dictatorship, it was he, along with myself, a lifelong friend, who translated most of the messages from Greek political leaders – notably those of Panayiotis Kanellopoulos – and helped to send them to the BBC and to the foreign press. Eddie Duckworth was also a great wit and bon vivant, a good amateur painter – thanks to the instigation of John Craxton – a musician, an excellent photographer, a good tennis, chess and bridge player. He also made many literary translations from the Greek – not to mention his original, witty letters to Helen Vlachos’s Kathimerini. These established him as one of the best «Letters to the Editor» writers in Greece. Recently he had published a book in Greek of his columns in Kathimerini and Politika Themata, which was a great success. Sir Jan Lewando of Marks & Spencer said in a speech to the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce that there were two «musts» for every English visitor to Greece: One was to see the Acropolis and the other was to call on Eddie Duckworth. His well-rounded personality, erudition and wit reminded one of some of the qualities of John Maynard Keynes, notwithstanding the fact that Eddie was no mathematician and Keynes no diplomat. His comments were sometimes very reminiscent of those Keynes made to Lloyd George. When at a Cabinet meeting, Keynes was asked to make a comment on the prime minis- ter’s views, he calmly replied: «With all due respect, I regard your account as rubbish.» Duckworth, when asked to make written remarks on some nonsensical reports, used to draw very discreetly a Greek «omega» instead of «balls,» a sign which became notorious at the British Embassy. Lately, after the unfortunate but tragicomic Bothwell espionage incident, in which some irrelevant and incompetent people tried to involve Duckworth, he suffered a major health crisis and underwent many major and minor operations which resulted in the amputation of his left foot. After a health struggle of many years, without the support of any insurance cover whatsoever – a unique case in the annals of any country for a public servant who has dedicated his 35-year career to his country and who has been awarded an MBE for these services – with help only from a few Greek friends and two nieces (daughters of a sister), he eventually lost this last battle, without ever losing his sense of humor and a good appetite for a glass of wine. State hospitals will be functioning with a skeleton staff from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow as nurses, paramedics and managers hold a work stoppage. Workers, demanding extra staff and a collective employment contract, will meet at 11 a.m. in Mavili Square, central Athens before marching to the interior, economy and health ministries.

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