Ian Donaldson Remembered
The Midland Group's Mark Slack leads the tributes to Group president and former chairman Ian Donaldson, who died last week at the age of 75.
Ian Donaldson was the Midland Group’s longest serving Chairman writes Mark Slack. During his 25 year tenure he steered the Group through one of the most turbulent times for the motor industry and those that write about it. Only officially stepping down from his Chairman’s role earlier this year, Ian continued to work until very recently when the cancer he was suffering from took a turn for the worse.
His lifelong interest in cars started when as a young man he drove a mildly modified 1960s Ford Anglia. Ian’s garage was later home to a very smart replica Cobra, and that was replaced 16 years ago by a more useable classic Porsche 911 Cabriolet. Both cars became regular features on Guild of Motoring Writers annual classic events.
A long career in journalism, and motoring writing, saw Ian hold a number of positions including Associate Editor and Motoring Editor with EMAP’s Northants Evening Telegraph, and other titles. He became a full time motoring writer in 1995 and went freelance in 1997.
Ian and his wife Jean moved from Kettering to a picture postcard village in Rutland where Ian took full part in village life. He would happily regale visitors with stories of eccentric village folk and the various comings and goings in his little part of rural life. Ian enjoyed all things cultural and was rarely happier than sitting listening to classical music. A favourite concert venue was close to his Rutland home at Neville Holt.
Always avuncular he championed the Midland Group of Motoring Writers’ Phil Llewellin ('Phils') and John Connor Awards (right, Ian with Phils winner Michael Lear), which encouraged younger people and those starting out on a career in motoring writing in all its forms. Those who enjoyed Ian’s company heard many tales from his years of different car launches all over the world, and to accompany him on a launch drive was never dull.
Even more important to Ian than his love of all things motoring was his wife Jean, to whom the members or the Midland Group of Motoring Writers extend their sincere condolences.
Formerly Head of Corporate Affairs, Volkswagen Group UK
Among his many qualities Ian was intelligent, friendly great company and witty. Colleagues from the motor industry enjoyed many “A Grand Day Out” on an annual basis at the invitation of the Midland Group under his supervision and a host of happy memories were generated.
Ian was never short of an amusing anecdote, one being on the topic of being reported by a nosy neighbour for running a car sales operation from his home. The evidence tendered by the prosecution majored on the ever-changing new vehicles frequenting his driveway. The case for the defence, put by our professional motoring correspondent, was accepted by the adjudicating local council representative who happened to be one of Ian’s readers. Ian took quiet pleasure in not even broaching the outcome of the matter to his curtain-twitching neighbour but deployed a knowing smile when he next encountered her.
Oh for there to have been a camera to hand to record a memory I hold of Ian and Jean from 10 June 2006. It was late afternoon in a temperature around 29 or 30 deg C when Guild Euro-Classic participants were arriving at The Albion Hotel in Ypres for the overnight stop. Josy and I had already parked our 1930 car, which had survived the heat and traffic jams, and walked out into the street to see other friends arriving. Ian and Jean appeared in their AC Cobra, seated behind the massive V8 in its small engine bay. When around 20 metres from us they suddenly disappeared in a whoosh and a giant ball of water vapour around 6 metres in diameter, the consequence of a plastic Y-junction in the cooling system exploding dramatically under the prevailing conditions of temperature, pressure and fragility. The issue was resolved by the following day and Ian had yet another tale to tell. This may have been part of the reason why he ditched the water-cooled V8 for an air-cooled flat-six in a Porsche 911 that was to become more reliable transport on subsequent Guild Classic trips.
It was always a great pleasure to interact with Ian, whether this was for business, on leisure activities or privately. He will be greatly missed by a great number of people. Josy and I pass our condolences to Jean and their family. We would also like to communicate to her our gratitude for all those happy memories of outings together with Ian in our classic cars in Europe and being introduced to new areas of Midland Group territory on sunny summer days.
Paul and Josy Buckett
Former Welsh Group Chairman
It is hard to believe the ubiquitous Ian Donaldson is no longer with us. He was at every Chairman’s meeting when I was Welsh Group Chairman, every trip, every special meeting - hugging his battered case - and it was ever a joy to see him in his permanently joyous mood.
Along with the other tributes you will have had, I must include his loyal wife, what a couple made in heaven - so huge buckets of love to her in these sad days.
And it is so nice in his last few weeks you made him your President as a huge tribute.
Director, PR, Mazda Motors UK Ltd
Very sad news of the passing on Ian Donaldson and our thoughts are with Jean and Ian’s family.
Ian was one of those hard working motoring enthusiasts in the ranks of motoring media who really understood the joy of motoring and cars, always a pleasure to talk to and spend and evening or lunchtime in his company. A thoughtful and interesting man, he had an enviable memory, always remembering family names, jobs and hobbies.
Of the many memories I have of Ian the one that stand out is fairly recent, from 2019, when we displayed Jean’s 323 at our Mazda3 launch. His face lit up when he saw it alongside the other heritage Mazda3s on display and let everyone know that the car was Jean's car. In Ian’s own words ‘I can't tell you the level of excitement in the Donaldson household that a beloved 323F is going to star on a national stage and I won't be able to stop its owner polishing her car half to death even before your experts get their hands on it.’
Ian will be missed.
Midland Group of Motoring Writers
There will rightly be a long list of tributes to Ian, both as a person and as our long standing chairman.
It was to him that we turned when Tony Willard relinquished the chairman’s role all those years ago and he led the MGMW to industry wide recognition. He never ceased to take his duties seriously, understanding the diplomatic balance required when representing such a varied membership. He had rare qualities as a passionate wordsmith who had never forgotten his roots and with Jean by his side they were an inseparable couple who never stopped smiling.
He was encouraging, generous and, as has already been said, a true gentleman.
The MGMW is what it is today because of Ian Donaldson and we should be truly thankful that we could call ourselves his colleagues and friends.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jean.
Group Communications Director, Stellantis UK
Such sad news to read this morning of Ian’s passing.
Ian was a highly professional journalist, someone never shy of a probing question that was always on the mark. But above all of this though, he was one of the most delightful people to spend any time with. A person blessed with a wonderful sense of humour and the ability to tell a great story with wit and charm. My wife and I had the pleasure over a number of years of spending time both professionally and socially with Ian and Jean and their kindness to us are memories that will be treasured.
In a world today that’s complex and sometimes challenging, Ian was a bright light and the world is worse off with him having left us.
Love from Suzanne and I to Jean and the family at this very sad time.
Midland Group of Motoring Writers
Ian Donaldson: one of the good guys. Always pleased to see you, always interested in what you were doing, always keen to hear about the family.
Ian and I shared an expensive love of old Porsches and it was always a delight when he and Jean turned up on the front door looking for a cup of tea. Sometimes on their way back from our local Porsche specialist, more often from their regular trips to garden centres across the Cotswolds.
His legacy will be a strong Midland Group thriving in a digital age. By his own admission, he didn’t really understand modern media but he recognised its importance. As chairman he led the Group through a period of significant change and he was determined to keep it relevant.
He will be sorely missed on so many levels – a mentor for many of us. RIP Ian
Former chairman, Northern Group of Motoring Writers
Ian was a lovely, amusing and friendly man and a well-informed writer and enthusiast. During my years as chairman of the Northern Group of Motoring Writers, HIlary and I enjoyed meeting Jean and Ian at the frequent chairmen's weekends away, somewhere nice and relaxing, hosted by car companies.
Freelance motoring writer
Well this is very sad news. I much enjoyed sharing a car and chewing the fat with Ian on launches and was always happy to be on the same table as him at mealtimes. An exceptionally kind, gentle, considerate and perceptive man with a wicked dry wit who never failed to make my day brighter than it might otherwise have been.
I only met his wife Jean on one occasion when, at Ian’s request, we diverted from the test route to give her a lift from The Hill in Burford to the nearby Burford Garden Company. My sincerest condolences to her and the Donaldson family.
Head of Public Relations and Communications, Polestar UK and Ireland
We at Polestar were very sorry to learn of the passing of Ian Donaldson this weekend. Ian was always a very happy and fun person to be around and I, personally, always enjoyed hosting him on events around the country.
We offer our condolences to Ian's family and the Midland Group of Motoring Writers - our thoughts are with you all.
Our best wishes,
Northern Group of Motoring Writers
As a young, shy motoring journalist it was always a welcome sight to spot Ian on a launch. He was so welcoming and such a naturally entertaining and kindhearted guy. I recall him being part of a double-act with Rodney Tibbs, if I'm not mistaken.
But apart from the jovial persona, I got the impression that he knew his stuff. A journalist of the old school. And a very entertaining writer.
Ian’s first ten years as chairman were celebrated with a gift from the Group, presented during a Group visit to Duxford for an air show. In his role as chairman Ian was our ‘wing commander’ so the gift was, appropriately, a leather flying helmet and goggles. Here Ian Law helps Ian get kitted out.
Southern Group of Motoring Writers
Sad news today of the death of Ian Donaldson, long standing doyen of the Midland Group of Motoring Writers of which he was chairman for over 25 years until earlier this year.
Like myself one of the old school of provincially trained journalists we started out on the same career path many years ago when he began at the Sharman family-owned Cambridgeshire Times in March and I started up the road with the same group on the Wisbech Standard. We both shared the scary experiences too of young hacks being driven to the printers on press days by the then rather eccentric and 90 year-old Algie Sharman in his large car - proved good training though for us both to eventually become motoring correspondents!
Our paths would cross again later on when he became a regional motoring correspondent like myself and over the years we met and drove many times together on press launches and he was always a joy (and safe driver!) to have as a companion on such drives.
Even when we became lost on some test route somewhere in the middle of France or wherever (no sat navs in those days!) he remained calm and unnerved and we always found a way home whilst dinner in the evening on such events was always enjoyable around the table with his quiet and pleasant conversations and many stories of his journalistic life.
Sadly because of covid and his recent illness we had not met up for some time but we had corresponded while his memory of enjoyable company wherever and whenever will live long in my esteem for him.
Former PR operations Manager, Toyota GB
I was very sad to hear the news of Ian’s passing. It was always a pleasure to host him at our launches and events. A true gentleman who was always positive and whose company enjoyed.
Former press fleet manager, PSA UK
Heard the sad news on Ian's passing, i always found Ian a pleasure to deal with in my past role as PSA Press Fleet manager.
Sending my condolences and best wishes to Jean and the family
Broadcaster and motoring journalist
Arriving at airports various for yet another car launch, I was always delighted to see Ian. At the bar, in the dining room or road testing whatever new motor, his company was most excellent. A naturally funny man with a bone dry wit within...
On a launch in Spain he and I speculated if we'd ever be invited by our hosts again if the press cars were bugged. ID brought out my inner bitch - in a very nice way. I recall so many conversations, all generously garnished with belly aching laughter.
My heart goes out to the his delightful widow Jean and all his friends and family.
RIP dear, dear Ian. We will all miss you, mate.
Denni and I were so shocked and saddened to hear this sad news. Ian was the consummate professional and not only an absolute pleasure to deal with on a professional level but simply a lovely guy. I feel privileged to be able to say that over the years Ian became a good friend and great company on events such as the Guild classics. The media has changed beyond recognition over the last decade and Ian was a wonderful example of the “old school” where journalistic standards mattered. He will be sadly missed by many. RIP old friend Ian.
Former Austin Rover and Vauxhall PR
I’ve known Ian since I joined Austin Rover PR in 1985. Both he and Jean were regular attendees at our launches with Ian fully engaged with the job in hand. A great writer who made the very best of a Perkins diesel engine in the Maestro van, the world’s noisiest LCV! Clearly Ian was a big supporter of local industry - Perkins was based in Peterborough! Ian was also a big influence at the regional group meetings that MIPAA held for many years. Constructive and always contributing positively in our discussions. A true gent and a proper journalist who made the most of good relationships, inquisitive and always objective.
RIP Ian, you were a gentleman of our industry.
Director, Nobull Communications
Over many years I knew Ian both as a journalist and PR man.
Whilst quite serious at times about getting the job done the right way, I always found Ian to be very good company.
He was insightful, knowledgeable, professional and very committed to his job.
I am sad to hear of his passing and all my best wishes to his family and to the Midlands Group at this difficult time.
Former Audi and Skoda PR
I’m so sad to hear about the passing of the lovely Ian. An absolute delight to have on launches. I will never forget one memorable launch where we had to divert the plane to another country (French air traffic, say no more….), and for some reason the address punched into the sat nav en route was the French Alps (when it should have been the French Riviera).
Duly arriving in the Alps, the error was realised and a few hours later returned to the right place. A good chuckle and a few alcoholic beverages later it was taken in good spirit, typical of such an affable gentleman.
Rest in peace Ian and my deepest condolences to Jean.
A few years ago the Midland Group was planning some bespoke jackets for members, and the supplier sent a sample for us to look at.
Ian donned the jacket for a photograph, and someone quipped that he looked like he “should be on the cover of GQ”.
So we made it happen…
Editorial Director, AutoTrader
Very sad to read of Ian's death. He had such a wonderfully dry sense of humour and was always such a joy to sit next to on a launch dinner.
I recall a partners' weekend with Kia in Spain one year, where we ate Epoisses cheese for dinner, which stinks. We discussed whether the stench was worth the taste; Ian insisted it was.
I arrived home, shortly followed a few days later by a package from Ian, containing a large portion of Epoisses. I can still hear him expounding on its virtues, and I can still smell it.
Thanks very much, Ian.
Midland Group of Motoring Writers secretary
So, the gentleman who quietly cajoled me into taking on the role of Midland Group secretary on a launch in Spain back in 2005 is no longer with us.
I've long since forgiven him, of course, for the 'unexpected ambush' (the words he used himself to apologise in a letter shortly afterwards) and I'll never forget the other happy times we shared a car at various points on the compass.
Where I'll really miss him is at our committee meetings, where his wise counsel always held sway. We would eat (don't think he ever told Jean about the fat chips), his legendary quick wit would come to the fore, but always from Ian there was the determination to keep the group heading in the right direction and adapting to the changes in the industry that we've all had to deal with.
Even COVID couldn't stop him - our mutterings were held electronically, with a cheery smile appearing on screen from the depths of Leicestershire. WiFi permitting, of course.
When we messaged each other a few weeks back he said the group's Christmas dinner date in December was firmly in his diary, and Hilary and I were so looking forward to seeing Ian and Jean again.
A true professional of the first order. And a truly lovely chap. RIP Mr President.
Motoring Writer, Northern Ireland
When we met on various launches in a variety of locations, Ian would often greet me as "the other Ian". He was larger than life and I particularly enjoyed our chat about cars of an earlier age; also Ian was always keen to learn of the latest newcomers to the world of watches, a small passion which we both enjoyed.
I recall many of the partners events where my wife Hilary and I would meet with Ian's lovely wife Jean. Our thoughts are very much with Jean, she in company with many others will miss Ian.
Ian was always keen to learn what was going on over the Irish Sea and many a debate we had on politics or the lack of.
There will be an empty place at many future launches, but Ian will remain long in the memory.
Head of Press & PR Automobile Division, Suzuki GB
Ian was one of the very first motoring journalists I met 30 years ago when I was very new to Automotive industry PR having moved across from the technical side. I always enjoyed his great company on launches and made a point of sitting him on my dinner table whenever I could. It was always a pleasure to meet with Ian and Jean at events and remember being in a convoy following Ian’s prized 911 Cabriolet through the Cotswolds on one or two of the Guild Classic car runs.
I have many fond memories of great conversations about our industry and the people we had met over many years. Our chats would usually divert to classic car ownership and the great fun it gave us.
RIP Ian and our thoughts are with Jean and the family.
Freelance automotive journalist
Dreadfully sorry to hear of Ian’s death.
A larger than life character in many ways who illuminated any media or social event with his wit and inherent wisdom.
Simply great company Ian was an old fashioned, highly professional journalist who cut through corporate PR flannel without rancour or offence. His journalistic and personal legacy will endure, particularly Ian’s stewardship of the Midland Group. Sadly missed and fondly remembered.
Head of PR and Communications, Volkswagen UK
Very sad to hear of Ian’s passing. He was professional, friendly, erudite and enthusiastic, as well as very pleasant company. He always had a twinkle in his eye when telling stories, and loved to raise a laugh or two.
I have been around long enough to remember him and Jean in their boisterous, very dramatic AC Cobra replica. It was quite a machine. I also remember him deciding that enough was enough with breathing in its fumes and enduring its discomforts – much as he loved the car – and thus moving into a Porsche 911. Two great cars, to be fair…
Ian will be sorely missed – a great journalist, a top ambassador for the Midland Group, and a lovely person to spend time with. From all in the Volkswagen team, we pass on our condolences to Jean and their family and friends.
Former motoring editor, Express & Star, Wolverhampton
Really sad news about Ian. He was a lovely chap and most welcoming when I first joined the Midland Group.
With his keen intellect and mischievous sense of humour he was always great company on a car launch. We drove together quite a few times, with probably my favourite being a Nissan event in the spectacular surroundings of north western Greece.
We had been making good progress until we had to pull up to avoid what we thought was a rock in the road. Turned out it was a tortoise ambling its way across the carriageway, which greatly tickled Ian.
Sincere condolences to Jean and family.