Sir John Killick, the diplomat who died on Thursday aged 84, served as Head of Chancery in Washington and as Ambassador in Moscow; he could have occupied with distinction almost any of the top appointments in the British Diplomatic Service.

In the event, it was as Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Brussels that Killick ended his career, serving in that post from October 1975 until his retirement in 1979.

Killick enjoyed multilateral diplomacy, and his personality was well-suited to it. His knowledge of defence and East-West questions derived from experience spanning more than 20 years, and was consequently extremely comprehensive.

Furthermore, his knowledge of the Soviet Union, where he had been Ambassador in the early 1970s, was very relevant at a stage of the Cold War when continuous assessment of Nato's most obvious enemy was indispensable.

Killick won high regard from his own Government, and also from his fellow ambassadors on the North Atlantic Council during his four-year appointment.

A tall, good-looking man who was invariably sun-tanned and kept a well-trimmed moustache, John Killick had something of the aura of an Indian general. He also had a most attractive personality which won him many friends at every stage of his career.

John Edward Killick was born on November 18 1919, and was educated at Latymer Upper School. He went on to University College, London, where he read French and German, and subsequently attended Bonn University. During the Second World War, he was commissioned into the Suffolk Regiment and later served in Airborne Forces.

At the end of the war in Europe, Killick took the Foreign Office examination and spent two years in London dealing with German affairs, before going to his first post abroad in the Control Commission for Germany, and then as a member of the British High Commissioner's staff in Bonn.

Thereafter, Killick's appointments in the Service - with the exception of three years, from 1954 to 1957, at the embassy in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa - were either in the Foreign Office itself, in one of the key departments dealing with European affairs, or in a major embassy; there were intervals during which he attended the Canadian National Defence College and, later, the Imperial Defence College, London.

One of Killick's most important posts in the middle of his career was as Counsellor and Head of Chancery in Washington, where he served from 1963 to 1968, first under David Harlech and later under Patrick Dean. Then, after three years as an Assistant Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office, he was chosen to be Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1971.

Unfortunately, Killick's tour of duty in this first ambassadorial post was somewhat grim, because he arrived in Moscow just after the British expulsion of no fewer than 105 Soviet intelligence officers who had been serving at the Soviet Embassy in London.

The Russians' reaction to this move was not quite as sharp as the Foreign Office had feared and, although relations became frigid, the Soviet authorities did not unduly obstruct Killick in the performance of his duties.

He and his wife did their best to sustain the morale of the embassy staff, who were suffering from the policy of chilly disfavour then adopted by the Russians towards the British. Gradually, the climate improved and Anglo-Soviet relations reverted to their normal state of wary tolerance.

Still, two years in Moscow were quite enough, and Killick was glad to return to the Foreign Office as a Deputy Under-Secretary in 1973. As a senior adviser to the Foreign Secretary (Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and then, for a short time, James Callaghan), he was an influential figure both in Whitehall and on the international scene. Thus he acquired the experience and standing which his final post as Ambassador to Nato required.

Killick was appointed CMG in 1966, KCMG in 1971 and GCMG in 1979.

In 1973 he was elected a Fellow of University College, London. He married first, in 1949, Lynette du Preez (nee Leach), a South African. John and Lynette Killick were always good company, and complemented one another socially. He was an admirable raconteur and talented mimic, and she had a keen sense of humour.

After his retirement, they went to live in South Africa, while keeping a foothold in Britain in the form of a cottage in Kent. He was a director of Dunlop South Africa from 1980 to 1985.

After Lynette Killick's sudden death in 1984, John Killick returned to Britain, where he accepted the appointment of President of the British Atlantic Committee.

He married secondly, in 1985, Irene "Bill" Easton, whom he had known for many years. It was again a very happy marriage, and John Killick resumed his former interest in international affairs. But then Lady Killick fell seriously ill with cancer and died in 1995. Until a very late stage of her illness, she was devotedly nursed by her husband; but after her death, even John Killick's robustly sanguine attitude to life was sadly shadowed.

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