Obituaries: Sir Thomas Risk, 89

Sir Thomas Risk
Sir Thomas Risk
Have your say

A lawyer and banker regarded as a loyal friend of the Edinburgh International Festival has died at the age of 89.

Born and educated in Glasgow, Sir Thomas Risk was the chairman of the Edinburgh International Festival Endowment Fund between 1989 and 1997.

One of five children, he was also regarded as one of the most successful governors of the Bank of Scotland and enjoyed a spell as president of the Law Society of Scotland.

After attending Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow, Thomas studied law at Glasgow University before joining legal firm Maclay Murray & Spens, where his dad, Ralph, was a senior partner.

The outbreak of the Second World War interrupted his career, with Thomas qualifying as a pilot in the RAF, and it was on duty in Sri Lanka that he met his future wife, Suzanne Eiloart, who would go on to become dubbed as the Bank of Scotland’s “first lady”.

They married in 1949, with his stature and reputation in legal circles growing swiftly.

In 1977, Thomas was appointed as deputy governor at the bank, four years before stepping up to the top job. With North Sea Oil booming, Scotland’s finance industry was on a steep incline and the bank was at the forefront.

But in 1986, one of the City’s most controversial takeover wars ended in 
an incident that became known as “The Thomas 
Risk Affair”.

Sir Thomas had been promised the chairmanship of the Guinness and Distillers Group, but chief executive Ernest Saunders claimed the job for himself. Attempts were made to portray Sir Thomas as a “little Scotlander” who wanted to put parochial interests above the group – claims he easily denied.

Sir Thomas’ distinguished career also saw him spend spells at the helm of Standard Life and the University of Glasgow Trust.

Retiring in 1991, he used his influence to broker deals between the Edinburgh International Festival’s fundraisers and potential sponsors, with the Bank of Scotland backing the annual fireworks concert for 16 years.

Festival director Jonathan Mills described Sir Thomas a great friend and loyal supporter of the festival.

A keen patron of the arts, Sir Thomas also used his expertise and contacts to boost Glasgow’s Citizen Theatre, where he was honorary president between 1995 and 2002, and the Hamilton Bequest, a fund financing the purchase of artworks for galleries in Glasgow.

Away from work, Sir Thomas and Suzanne were keen travellers. They had four children – sons Keith, Timothy, Colin and Michael, who predeceased him. Suzanne passed away last year.

As well as his children, he is survived by six grandchildren, sister Shirley and brother Ralph.