Obituary - Susan Barrantes

Mother who stood by her daughter Sarah, Duchess of York, facing down press intrusion.

SUSAN Barrantes, who has died in a motor accident in Argentina aged 61, was the mother of Sarah, Duchess of York, and latterly the mainstay and a calming influence in her daughter's often turbulent life.

Though divorced, and a widow living in Argentina, her presence with the Royal Family outside Buckingham Palace last year as the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales passed by, was an indication that at traumatic moments in the life of the Royal Family, she was deemed to be an asset.

In a break with protocol, Susan Barrantes accompanied the Yorks as they entered Westminster Abbey that day. Dressed elegantly in black, she seemed a reassuring figure.

She was born Susan Mary Wright on June 9 1937, the youngest of three daughters of FitzHerbert Wright, a former lieutenant in the 15th/19th Hussars and later a company director. Her mother Doreen Wingfield was the only daughter of the 8th Viscount Powerscourt. Her brother Bryan was for a time the secretary of the Dorchester Club; her elder sister Brigid married Julian Salmond, son of Marshal of the RAF Sir John Salmond; her younger
sister Davina married Sir Richard Boughey, Bt.

The Wright family trace their ancestry back to John Wright, of Stowmarket, Suffolk, in 1557. Another ancestor, also John Wright, was imprisoned for eight years for raising a company in a regiment of horse in the Parliamentary cause in 1643. Later, the family moved to Nottingham, where they became principal proprietors of the Butterley Works. Susan's grandfather settled at Yeldersley Hall, Derbyshire.

Susan's childhood interests consisted of riding side-saddle and working hunter classes, where she won numerous prizes. After school, she went through secretarial college and undertook the debutante season at the age of 17.

It was at a dance that she met her first husband, Ronald Ferguson, then serving in the Life Guards. He was at once impressed: she was lively and vivacious, and shared his equestrian interests. She had also, he said, "a touch of Irish wildness about her, and she was a country girl, having been brought up in Lincolnshire and at her grandfather's castle [Powerscourt] in County Wicklow". Moreover, he explained, "she enjoyed going to polo matches - an essential pre-requisite for a Ferguson girlfriend in those days!"

Her parents, feeling she was too young to marry, sent her to France for a year. But the attachment survived the separation, and Susan married Ronald Ferguson at St Margaret's Westminster, on January 17 1956, with a reception for 600 guests at Claridge's.

They began their married life in London, where Ferguson was stationed at Knightsbridge Barracks, and a few years later moved to a house at Ascot, strategically close to the polo fields of Smith's Lawn and Windsor Castle. In 1968, Ferguson's father died and the family moved to his childhood home, Dummer Down House, a Queen Anne-style farmhouse near Basingstoke.

They had two daughters, Jane, born in August 1957, and Sarah, born in October 1959.

Susie Ferguson was not a classic Army wife; her interests revolved around horses and she was a keen show jumper. The marriage, though happy in the early days, was not helped by a period of separation while he was posted
to Aden. Eventually, she went out to join him, but it was a time that she evidently did not enjoy.

Her daughters adored her and the Duchess of York described her as "the most popular mother in Hampshire, the type your friends would praise as 'super-cool' ".

When not involved with the regiment, Ronald Ferguson's principal interest was polo, and this brought them into contact with the Royal Family. From time to time, the Queen and Prince Philip dined at Lowood, the Fergusons'
house at Ascot. In due course, Major Ferguson was invited to join Prince Philip's polo team.

In 1971, Major Ferguson was appointed deputy chairman of the Guards Polo Club. During these years, the Fergusons rode high, with shooting parties at Sandringham, dances at Windsor Castle and polo tours to Argentina, South
Africa, California and Chicago.

In 1969, Susie Ferguson conceived a third child, but developed toxaemia and pre-eclampsia, as the result of which she lost the baby and almost died. Not surprisingly, she suffered a long period of depression and later blamed her husband for lack of sympathy and "womanising" - an accusation he refuted, while admitting to "only two brief affairs in 16 years".

The marriage was to all intents and purposes already over when Susie fell in love with a fellow polo player, Hector Barrantes, whose wife Luisita and unborn child were killed in a car crash near Buenos Aires in February 1972.

Hector Barrantes had been a star rugby player and Golden Gloves heavyweight, and had risen to the zenith of the polo world, playing with an eight-goal handicap. That summer, Susie decided to leave her family for him.

"I have to leave now," she told Major Ferguson's mother, "otherwise the girls will have grown up and gone and I'll be left alone with Ronald." Barrantes himself tried to restrain her, having no wish to break up a family. But her mind was made up; her divorce went through in May 1974 and the next year Susie became Mrs Hector Barrantes.

She went to live in Argentina, where she and her husband maintained a large ranch at El Pucara, 350 miles south-west of Buenos Aires. There they bred 500 foals for polo, as well as cattle. And no doubt they would have remained there quietly pursuing these interests, but for being catapulted into the forefront of media attention by the engagement and marriage of Susie's daughter Sarah to Prince Andrew, who was created Duke of York on his wedding day in July 1986.

Both Major Ferguson and his former wife took a prominent part in the proceedings, Susie Barrantes travelling back from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace in an open carriage with the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Yorks' marriage was played out so publicly from its fun-loving beginning to its sad conclusion that the Duchess's parents were kept firmly in tabloid focus, the subjects of unflaggingly intrusive interest.

From this, Susie Barrantes emerged the heroine. Despite having deserted her daughters at a tender age, she supported them staunchly in their later difficulties.

Hector Barrantes fell ill with cancer of the lymph glands and died in 1990, after which Susie found herself in some financial difficulties. She had given her first, reluctant, interview to Hello! magazine as early as June 1988. She returned to that magazine with a full version of her reminiscences in 1992, and allowed further interviews in subsequent years.

In these she was revealed as a kind, brave woman, making the best of her lot, stoical and supportive of her daughters and their children.

She is survived by her two daughters.