After 18 years’ service as the President of the Royal Over-Seas League, Lord Luce announced his retirement from May 2020, not only from his role at the club, but also drawing to a close his professional career which has taken in service for Queen and country across the world

It has been an immense privilege to serve as President of the Royal Over-Seas League for 18 years. I remember so clearly when Stanley Martin (later Chairman) came to my office at Buckingham Palace in 2002 when I was Lord Chamberlain. He invited me, on behalf of the Central Council and subject to The Queen’s approval, to succeed the admirable Sir David Scott as President. I had no difficulty in accepting with pleasure!

The role of the League reflects my varied experience of life. It started in 1910 with Sir Evelyn Wrench’s vision of an organisation that could reflect an Empire transforming one day into a Commonwealth of nations: supported by members from many parts of the world, though not quite fulfilling Sir Evelyn’s ambition of one million. We have gradually developed such a wide variety of activities for members ranging from the Commonwealth to all aspects of culture including the great Annual Music Competition and the arts.

In the same way, my life began whilst the Empire was still at its height. As a child, I watched my father help to steer the Sudan to independence, serve as Governor of Aden and then as Political Resident in the then Persian Gulf. Later, as Special Representative to the Gulf for the Foreign Secretary, he negotiated our final withdrawal from the Gulf and Middle East.

My own experiences were reflected in my memoirs Ringing the Changes, where I described what it was like to be the last District Officer in the Kenyan Administration, later on as an MP and as a Minister in the Thatcher Government for ten years. All this gave me responsibilities for the changing role of Britain overseas in Africa, the Middle and Far East and of our wonderful range of arts, as Arts Minister. The League’s activities reflect so many of my own experiences.

My first memory of ROSL goes back to the time when my uncle, Admiral Sir David Luce, was the Chairman (1968-71). He had been First Sea Lord but resigned in 1966 as he disagreed with the government’s plans for phasing out aircraft carriers in the Far East.

We have developed such a wide variety of activities for members, ranging from the Commonwealth to all aspects of culture, including the great Annual Music Competition and the arts

Clearly, he enjoyed his time at the League but sadly he died suddenly after three years in the job. I am proud to have that family link. Over the years, I remember attending some events at Over-Seas House and above all I recall the formidable figure of the President, later Grand President, Lord Grey of Naunton who has been a distinguished Governor in Nigeria, amongst other tasks.

Much has happened to ROSL in my time as President. A landmark year was our Centenary attended by The Queen and Princess Alexandra at St James’s Palace. We do have a very special link with the Monarchy. The Duke of York (later King George VI) served as President for 14 years before the War and was succeeded by the then Duke of Kent.

My wife Rose and I have attended all the Annual Music Competitions, mainly held at the Southbank Centre or in Cadogan Hall and so regularly attended by our Vice Patron, Princess Alexandra. I recall very many other arts occasions.

With every long-serving institution, we have had our difficulties. Since our Centenary, we have had to adjust to a fast-changing world and Director-Generals ranging from Robert Newall, to Roddy Porter and Diana Owen have done their bit to lead the way. In 2015, we suffered great blows in the saddest loss of our Director of Arts, Roderick Lakin and, soon after, our new Chairman Simon Ward. This was followed by the decision to close our clubhouse in Edinburgh, which was sadly damaging our overall finances. It took time for the organisation to recover and to adjust to a new world.

WELCOME TO LORD GEIDT

Central Council has appointed Lord Geidt as ROSL’s next President with the endorsement of ROSL’s Patron, HM The Queen. Lord Geidt has had a distinguished career in public service, latterly as The Queen’s Private Secretary (2007-2017). Lord Geidt is a member of the House of Lords and Chairman of King’s College London. He will be the ninth President in ROSL’s 110-year history. The Chairman of the Royal Over-Seas League, Alexander Downer AC commented that:

“Lord Luce’s contribution has been outstanding and he will be missed by our staff and members. I am delighted that Lord Geidt has agreed to take up this role.”

Lord and Lady Luce entertaining esteemed guests Henry and Nancy Kissinger, Lord and Lady Carrington, and Sir John and Dame Norma Major

The fact that my wife Rose and I have been able to stay, since 2016, in Over-Seas House each week when the House of Lords has been sitting, has given us great pleasure. We have got to know so many of the staff at all levels, who have given such cheerful service to the League and much pleasure to Rose and me.

The striking thing about the League is that we are unique. There is no other organisation in the UK with its special range of objectives; to serve our loyal members, to be a social centre for the Commonwealth and to reflect British and Commonwealth culture. That is an exciting challenge for all of us.

We are truly a national, international and Commonwealth social centre in the best location in London overlooking Green Park and in a historic building. We have branches in many parts of the UK and throughout the world. We are proud of our special links all over the world and especially in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but with reciprocal arrangements on all continents.

Through our ROSL Trust, we are able to support music and other scholars from all parts of the world. And we must not underestimate the value of our charitable investment project in Africa where in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and others, we support African schoolchildren.

And we have this admirable Overseas quarterly journal to keep our members well informed.

But first we have to face the most formidable challenge for us which is the coronavirus and somehow we will emerge after the worst is over ready to grow again and to rebuild.

We have been lucky to have two Chairmen in Sir David Brewer and now Alexander Downer to see us through these challenging times and we are grateful to Diana as Director-General, and all staff for steering us through the forceful undercurrents to a new future.

For my part, I have been hugely privileged to have been able to serve in so many varied walks of life. My father taught me the importance of having a sense of service and duty to our country. And it was my mother, who reinforced in my childhood and school days, that we must realise that people are more important than anything else, that we all have something to offer and that we need to draw the best out of each other.

The thing I know for sure is that I could not have coped with all the challenges of my life without the most wonderful love and support of my wife Rose. Together, we have so much enjoyed being part of the life of the Royal Over-Seas League.

Rose and I cannot contemplate full retirement. For a start, I will support the publication of my wife’s memoirs which are to be called Rose’s Ramblings! and we will look forward to staying at the League from time to time.

All my experience of life indicates that we shall always be ready to expect the unexpected.

We have to face the most formidable challenge for us, which is the coronavirus and somehow we will emerge after the worst is over ready to grow again and to rebuild
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