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An amazing man with time for everybody and an ice-breaking sense of humour.
That’s how a community-minded Oban woman who met His Royal Highness Prince Philip will be remembering him following his death on Friday morning at the age of 99, just two months short of his centenary.
Teresa Russell, 72, met the Duke of Edinburgh at least four times between the 1980s and early 2000s in her former role as the Lorn area co-ordinator for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.
Encouraging youngsters to take part in the character-building initiative for around 15 years, they crossed paths frequently at the presentation of gold awards and thank you events at Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh.
Teresa, who then worked in community education, remembered vividly how at one event he sought out a group of young wheelchair users and dispensed with Royal formalities by sitting down on the grass with no blanket to engage them at eye level.
Teresa said: ‘He was just an amazing man and one of the most remarkable and warmest people who would speak to anybody and never fully got the recognition in life that he deserved. The award is an amazing scheme for young people and it’s a brilliant legacy.’
As an exam invigilator at Oban High School for many years, she also presented him with a book, 100 Years Of Oban High School, which included reference to the Queen Mother having travelled on the Ballachulish Railway.
He gratefully accepted and immediately remembered that Teresa worked with the local Guides group. The gift from Oban had ‘really pleased’ him and was now a piece of local history available at the Royal Library, said Teresa.
Of his notorious reputation for off-colour comments, she believes it was never done maliciously but was an ice-breaker at formal occasions.
‘It was done to make people feel at ease because some would be quivering wrecks,’ she said.
‘What would happen was you could all be at some very big important event and then he would say something funny to ease the tension.
‘If you didn’t know or understand his personality some would take offence but he never meant to cause any harm by it and it was to break the ice.’
Of the announcement of Prince Philip’s death, Teresa admitted she had a horrible feeling when BBC programming was interrupted on Friday morning with screens flashing up with a ‘special news report’ as the news broke.
She admitted she burst into tears and believes it will be strange now to see Her Majesty The Queen attending events without the shadow of the Duke dutifully following two steps behind following a remarkable marriage spanning 73 years.
But Teresa believes his legacy will go from strength-to-strength with an influx of young people applying to take their Duke of Edinburgh Award.
‘THE NATIVES’ REMARK
It was during a Royal visit to Oban in August 1995 that Prince Philip dropped one of his most scorching remarks.
He asked local driving instructor Bobbie Drummond, of Connel: ‘How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them past the test?’
Photographer Roy Summers, now 74, who ran a wedding photography business in the town, was working for the Oban Times and covered the visit.
This week he remembered how, on a scorching hot day the Royal couple left the World In Miniature attraction on the North Pier and went on a short walkabout to greet spectators ahead of a formal ceremony to open the Lorn and Islands District General Hospital.
Roy said the Prince approached Bobbie and possibly his wife Emily, and shook Bobbie’s hand and asked him what he did.
It led to the infamous comeback which was quickly picked up by an Oban Times reporter following close behind.
Roy, speaking from his home near Edinburgh this week, said: ‘Bobbie laughed and I think even he said something back.
‘We did all go for a drink back then and he knew the Prince was having a laugh.
‘We took it as a laugh and everybody we knew also took it as a laugh. That’s how we took it at the time.’
Roy, whose mother and father ran shops at Dunbeg, has two daughters still living in Oban today – Morven DiCiacca and Allison Harper.
Near the turn of the Millennium, Roy left Oban to join Scottish Field Magazine but has fond memories of his four years on the OT where he covered many Royal visits, including those by Princess Anne and Prince Charles.
Roy said of the Prince: ‘He was always smiling. All of the Royals had a sense of humour.’