Obituaries: Robin Angus, Scottish investment analyst and manager

Robin Angus, Scottish investment analyst and manager. Born: 15 September 1952 in Forres, Moray. Died: 4 May 2022, aged 69

Robin Angus was as witty as he was kind
Robin Angus was as witty as he was kind

Robin Angus, who died on 4 May 2022, was one of Scotland’s leading investment analysts and managers.

He worked closely first with Hamish Buchan at Wood Mackenzie and subsequently with the late Ian Rushbrook on the investment trust which Ian and he came to manage, Personal Assets Trust plc (PAT). PAT gained a well-deserved reputation for sound, prudent investment decisions aimed at steady, long-term growth rather than turning a quick buck.

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It was a winning formula, attracting serious, sensible money (the trust now manages nearly £2 billion) and ensuring that PAT’s own share price performed pleasingly even during challenging times, a source of some pride and pleasure to Robin. The Trust was unafraid to disrupt comfortable market thinking when it saw such thinking as resting on false or unwarranted assumptions, and Robin and Ian were among the happy few to anticipate the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, adopting a bearish approach which saw PAT continue to perform relatively well even when markets were collapsing around it. Robin used, amusingly, to refer to his colleague Ian as “the only bear in the village”, and Bill Jamieson of The Scotsman once aptly described Robin as an “Old Testament-style prophet hurling fireballs at the consensus”.

Robin certainly looked the part of a figure from a bygone age, sporting an expansive beard and (in earlier times at least), a three-piece suit, finished off with gold pocket watch, chain and bejewelled fob. After his twenties, he appeared hardly to age, though that was because by that stage (as he wryly acknowledged) he already looked to be in his sixties. He enjoyed recounting the story of how, in the late 1980s, after an investment journal had published an article of his accompanied by his photograph, an old lady had written in to ask whether the author was the same Robin Angus who had advised her father in 1937.

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Beneath what many might have perceived as a stern, Victorian appearance lay, however, a kind and generous nature, a wicked sense of humour and rapier wit, and an unbounded concern for the welfare of his fellow human beings.

Robin John Angus was born in Forres on 15 September 1952, to father Ian Gordon Angus, who ran the family tailoring business, and mother Morag Ann (Sally).

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He attended Forres Academy, where he excelled as a scholar. His family life in Forres, shared with his sister Sally, was a happy one, and he retained a deep love of Forres and Moray throughout his life (he later became a Laureate of the Edinburgh Morayshire Society), visiting it annually with Sally and his wife and happily slipping into the Doric whenever occasion allowed him to do so.

After Forres, he went on to undergraduate study at the University of St Andrews (graduating with an MA) where he met his future wife, Lorna Campbell, whom he married in 1977.

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After St Andrews, he began to research for a PhD at Peterhouse, Cambridge, before deciding to quit his studies early for a career in finance. When Douglas McDougall of Baillie Gifford went to Cambridge to interview potential new recruits, he asked Robin whether he knew what investment managers did. “They lunch regularly and drink large gins and tonic”, Robin replied, adding “I’m fond of a G&T.” He was hired.

Robin and his wife made a permanent and happy home for themselves in Torphin, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Though they had no children of their own, Robin was very fond of his nephews and nieces and he delighted in acquiring godchildren, to whom he took his duties very seriously, never forgetting their birthdays or Christmas.

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Robin began his financial career training at Baillie Gifford in 1977, before moving to stockbrokers Wood Mackenzie in 1981 where he was ranked number one UK investment trust analyst in the Extel survey of institutional fund managers for 13 consecutive years.

He began his work with PAT in 1984, becoming first a Director and later, in 1997, an Executive Director, eventually retiring from the board in 2020 (though remaining in a consultancy role with the trust until his death).

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The fondness of PAT for money and gold suited Robin well, as he was personally fond of the lustre of precious metals and how they felt to the touch, rather than for any reasons of brash showiness. He delighted in carrying gold coins in his jacket pockets (so a 2010 feature on him in Moneyweek informed its readers), he used kilo bars of silver as paperweights and he took pleasure in serving friends who visited PAT’s offices in St Colme Street, Edinburgh, copious quantities of strong spirits or champagne served in solid silver pint tankards.

The office also contained his collection of silver snuffboxes, from which he would periodically snuff quantities of Fribourg & Treyer’s Dr J R Justice blend (especially following the introduction of the smoking ban, which he regularly cursed), as well as a collection of rare and obscure books, his home study having long since exceeded its capacity to contain the extensive library of a true polymath.

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In 1991, Robin published a highly regarded book on investment trusts entitled “Haec Olim: Exploring the world of investment trusts 1981-1991” (the Latin portion of the title, referencing a passage from the Aeneid, was a mark of Robin’s extensive classical knowledge).

Among other publications, his quarterly investment reports were eagerly anticipated by the financial world, his commentary straying well beyond a simple recitation of PAT’s current state and venturing learnedly and humorously across the highways and byways of the sector. The immense reputation and respect he commanded in the financial world was recognised through the conferral of an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot Watt University in 2013, where he also held an Honorary Chair in the School of Management and Languages.

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Robin’s noted wit found a ready outlet in his regular verse-writing. His humorous and erudite poems appeared not only in the financial press but were also composed for special social gatherings, such as for meetings of the eccentric brotherhood of the “Monks of St Giles”. One regular composition was an annual epic poem delivered at the Christmas luncheon of the Von Poser Society of Scotland, which recognised his singular talents through conferring on him the office of its “Grand Makar”. Those who had the privilege to hear this annual embodiment of all of Robin’s genius and wit were treated not only to brilliant, often ribald, references to the latest goings-on of celebrities of the day (usually sourced from his reading a copy of the Sun the previous day) but also to a literary creation which, in Robin’s characteristically generous way, referenced everyone in attendance.

At this art form, Robin was the unrivalled master, making him a regularly sought-after luncheon and dinner guest. He was as happy, when seated next to strangers at the dinner table, talking about football or fishing, as he was about finance and, as one acquaintance of his put it, when conversing with Robin, “he made you feel that it was about you and not him”.

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As well as a brilliant investment manager, Robin was also a man of deep religious conviction, having flirted in his youth with the idea of training for the priesthood in the Scottish Episcopal Church. His episcopalianism was one of the defining features of his life and his Christian faith instilled in him a deep passion for justice and an unshakeable belief in the imperative to stand up for the outcast and the dispossessed.

He saw his own personal wealth as placing on him a firm responsibility to help those worse off than himself, and this manifested itself in his quiet and private support of a number of charities.

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As a young man, he had been a traditional, conservative Anglo-Catholic, but in his later years he become a liberal (though in no way a liturgical modernist), moving from opposing women priests to being a firm supporter of their cause and being proud of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s progressive stance on issues like same-sex marriage.

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He was particularly troubled when he encountered injustice (as he saw it) within the Church itself, as when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams failed to support the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John to a bishopric after conservative opposition based on John’s being in a (chaste) civil partnership. Robin promptly posted 30 pieces of silver to Lambeth Palace together with a missive explaining to Williams why, in Robin’s view, this was a cowardly betrayal worthy of Judas himself.

As an Episcopalian, Robin enjoyed the singular honour of also having been made, in 2001, a papal knight of the Order of St Sylvester, conferred upon him by the Catholic Church in Scotland for the many years of pensions advice he gave to it (for no financial reward). He admired much about the Catholic Church, continuing to hope for corporate reunion between Anglicanism and Catholicism, though his personal devotion to the Scottish Episcopal Church would never allow him to “swim the Tiber” as others among his friends had done. The quality of loyalty was something Robin valued greatly, and once committed to friends or organisations he found it hard to contemplate ever throwing them over.

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The value Robin placed on loyalty, as well as his fondness for lost causes, manifested itself in his Jacobitism and his devotion to King Charles the Martyr. He was a longstanding member of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, the Royal Martyr Church Union and the Royal Stuart Society, as well as Chancellor of the Memorial of Merit of King Charles the Martyr. He delighted, with a twinkle in his eye, in jokingly posing to others the question (to which only a true Jacobite could give the “correct” answer): “When was the last time a government army was defeated by a rebel army on this island?” (the “correct” answer being, of course, 1746, in reference to the Battle of Culloden).

One field in which Robin was especially learned was history, and he took justified pride in the history of his own forbears, one of whom, William Paterson Templeton, Unionist MP for Banffshire and subsequently for Airdrie & Coatbridge, a wood-turner by trade, had in 1909 founded the Unionist Working Men’s Association and become its first Organising Secretary. Despite his ancestor’s political loyalties, Robin was himself (to the surprise of some) a lifelong, committed member of the Scottish National Party, and sought in publications such as “Independence: the Option for Growth”, his 1981 open letter to the Scottish financial community, to convince those working in financial services of the opportunities which Scottish independence offered to the sector.

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In later years, Robin’s health began to fail. Having struggled for some time with the “black dog” of depression, he was also faced with the need for a coronary bypass and multiple arterial stents, and was troubled with circulatory problems which he bore with fortitude. These troubles were sometimes even an opportunity for humour: for a while, a persistently swollen foot furnished him with the excuse of sporting a comfortable Aston Villa-branded slipper wherever he went, even within the hallowed confines of Edinburgh’s New Club, of which he was a longstanding member. For a life-long “villan”, this was a source of real pleasure.

In 2008, Robin gave the oration at the funeral of his old friend and fellow Jacobite, David Lumsden of Cushnie, and opened it by quoting from Hilaire Belloc: “From quiet homes and first beginning, Out to the undiscovered ends, There’s nothing worth the wear of winning, But laughter and the love of friends”.

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He meant those words for his departed friend, but they were as true of Robin himself, whose company and wit enlivened any gathering with much laughter and whose passing lies heavy on the hearts of the many friends he loved and who returned his love in full measure.

Robin is survived by his widow, Lorna, his sister Sally, and his nephews and nieces.

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