Roger Horrell, Old Shebbearian, distinguished senior SIS officer and diplomat, died on May 21 at the end of a long and influential life.
Born in Dartmouth in 1935, Roger came to Shebbear after the Second World War and excelled both academically and on the sports field. Following National Service in Kenya with the Devonshire Regiment and his studies at Oxford University, Roger returned to Africa as a District Officer in the Colonial Service. Here he developed a strong affinity with Africa and Africans, winning the cooperation of often fiercely independent local politicians during the difficult time leading to Kenya’s independence.
On leaving the Colonial Service, Roger was recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) and served in Dubai before returning to Africa and posts in Uganda and Zambia. During his years in Lusaka, he developed close contacts with many of the principal militant refugees from the rebel Smith regime in Rhodesia. Roger’s work in winning the confidence of often competing parties proved invaluable when Margaret Thatcher and Lord Carrington organised the Lancaster House conference to negotiate the handover to majority rule in the new Zimbabwe.
On returning to London, Roger was responsible for MI6’s operations in Africa which included insurgent wars in Angola and Mozambique, as well as maintaining stability in Zimbabwe’s early years of independence and, eventually, the process of change in South Africa.
His final service appointment was as senior director responsible for personnel and administration. Here he was given the challenging mandate of increasing accountability and encouraging a more self-critical culture as a means of complementing the service’s early years buccaneering ethos which, though responsible for many successes, now needed modernising. This was also the time that John Major’s government publicly acknowledged the existence of MI6, leading to its establishment by statute and parliamentary oversight.
The well-developed sense of fairness based on firm liberal foundations, sympathy and support for colleagues shown, both as Personnel Director and throughout Roger’s service, speak of a man the OSA remembers with fondness and respect. He was our President in 1996 and an active committee member until very recently. His humour, intelligence, modesty and above all, warmth provide memories of a man whose character, worth and story provide inspiration to us all.