Stewart Middleton (GG 1962-1967)
Obituary written by his wife, Sarah Hermitage
“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we deeply love becomes a part of us”
David Stewart Middleton (12.07.1949 – 09.05.2019) grew up on his parent’s farm in Zambia. His grandfather left Kew Gardens at the turn of the 19th century to grow tobacco in Chipata on the Zambian Malawi border. From there his father settled on a farm just outside of Choma.
I met and fell in love with Stewart in Africa in 1992. He was farming in Malawi and I was teaching law at the University of Kent in the UK. I took the long summer vacation to complete an overland journey from Cameroon to Harare. We met at twilight on the southern shores of Lake Malawi at Senga Bay. We drank cold beer and watched the sun set over Mozambique. This was the start of another journey for us both which allowed me the privilege of spending the following thirty years of my life with one of the most beautiful human beings that ever walked the planet.
Stewart was a quiet, gentle man with an amazing ability to compromise and turn the other cheek. Some saw this as a weakness but it was perhaps his greatest strength. He was well mannered, kind and generous. He was never rude or condescending with a unique capacity to tease the best out of the people who worked for him. He was educated (and head boy) at Falcon College in Zimbabwe. Falcon equipped Stewart well for the challenges of life ahead of him. After Falcon, Stewart attended Pietermaritzburg University in South Africa and his early working life was spent working as a Tsetse control officer in Zambia. Stewart farmed in many countries after this time and shortly after we met, he was employed by various international companies as an agronomist in different parts of the world where he gained a first-class reputation in his field.
Stewart (far left) at Falcon in 2017 with his cousin Ian and Ian’s sons Duncan and Patrick.
We spent time in Kazakhstan, six years in China with British American Tobacco and in 2000, Stewart was employed on a controversial programme employed by the United States company, Vector Tobacco, to grow zero nicotine genetically modified tobacco on a farm in Moshi, northern Tanzania. He was director of Vector’s operations in Tanzania until their operations ceased in 2004. We then purchased the lease to the farms on which Vector had been conducting their operations. This led to one of the most challenging periods of Stewart’s life and indeed our life together. Stewart strategically planned the rehabilitation of the farms to optimize their profitability and sustainability with a comprehensive agribusiness plan. At the heart of his plan was his desire to rehabilitate the property into a sustainable and profitable operation, to train and develop a skilled workforce that would persist long after his stewardship of the land. His many years of experience in developing and managing farming projects within complex social, legal, and regulatory environments in developing economies in Africa and elsewhere made Stewart the ideal candidate to revive the property.
Within the first six months, Stewart’s farming skills, significant financial investment and the creation and management of a dedicated staff, transformed the farms from derelict and commercially-unproductive land into a productive farming operation employing over 150 Tanzanians from the local community; growing and exporting more than eight tons of fine green beans to Europe weekly during harvest; and the first farms in Tanzania to earn EUREPGAP accreditation, a valuable farm classification that would allow us to tap into the profitable European Union market. Sadly, we were, through corruption, violence and intimidation forced to leave our farm in 2008 and return to the UK. We fought for justice and civil society throughout these four years and it was a dangerous and difficult time. I saw my husband arrested and imprisoned on more than one occasion and marched though the streets of Moshi with AK-47 rifles pointed at his head. His life was constantly under threat. Despite this and through it all; the pain, the violence, the harassment and intimidation which forced us to leave Tanzania, Stewart showed a courage and dignity of which not only I, but our African colleagues too were in awe. “Nova virtute, puer; sic itur ad astra”
Stewart was an African through and through. His burning desire during his international working career was to return to and retire on his family farm in Zambia. Sadly, circumstances prevented him from doing this and I watched his heart break over the coming years. When he subsequently lost his farm in Tanzania, I knew we had to find a place where he could be perhaps not happy, but at least content and I knew this could not be the U.K. We bought an olive farm in the Los Guajares mountains in southern Spain. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here, Stewart found peace and tranquility and with his usual hard work and passion he renovated four hundred of the 700 derelict olive trees on the farm which are now under drip irrigation and consistently producing six tons of olives each year. He created our paradise in Spain which no one could take away from us. It is not Africa but it is a place where Stewart could heal the loss of his family home and the loss of his farm in Tanzania.
Suddenly in April of this year Stewart became ill with a very rare cancer. He had carcinoid syndrome and a neuroendocrine tumour in the pancreas and duodenum. We don’t know where the primary cancer was. He died within six weeks, peacefully in Granada hospital in Spain. He was 69.
I do not know where my life will now take me. At this early stage of grief, I simply cannot imagine my life without this gentle and beautiful man by my side: as this exactly who Stewart was, a gentleman. Of one thing I am completely sure. Stewart’s courage and dignity will be my guiding force. Rest in peace my darling husband. You were loved so very much by so very many! I would like to give special thanks to Stewart’s daughter Ginny who gave me so much support at a very difficult time and to Stewart’s family in Zimbabwe and South Africa for their enduring support.