Obituary: Anthony Derry, businessman

Anthony Derry

Anthony Derry

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Born: 18 April 1933, in Peterchurch, Herefordshire.Died: 22 February 2013, in Longboat Key, Florida, aged 79

ANTHONY Derry was a senior and much-respected figure in the Scotch whisky industry during the 1970s and 1980s, latterly becoming chief executive of the international wine and spirits division of Whitbread plc. It was a time when the former beer giant had become a major player in Scotch and other spirits with brands such as Long John, Laphroaig, Tormore and Beefeater gin before Whitbread plc turned its attention away from the licensing industry and focused on the leisure trade with brands such as Premier Inn and Costa Coffee. For much of his career, “Tony” Derry was based in Perth or Crieff, where one of his daughters still lives, before he retired to Florida in 1990, using his experience to set up a beverage company producing tequila and bourbon. He would later give up the industry to concentrate on his other great loves -- his family and golf.

Derry was a past director of the Scotch Whisky Association in the late 1980s. He was also a founding investor in Loch Fyne restaurants, the chain which blossomed from the original Loch Fyne Oyster bar on the A83 at Cairndow in Argyll to become a UK-wide phenomenon, with his son Mark Derry co-owner of the chain until it was sold to the Greene King brewery in 2007.

Anthony Edward Derry was born in 1933 in the village of Peterchurch, on the river Dore in the “Golden Valley” of Herefordshire, not far from the Welsh border.

His home was in the shadow of the village’s Norman church, St Peter’s, but that was long before the church became a tourist attraction for its modern fibreglass spire, visible for miles around.

He attended St Owens Boys’ School in the county town of Hereford before, barely having turned 17, he enlisted in the Royal Marines in Exeter in 1950 – against the backdrop of the Cold War.

He served on HMS Sheffield, a cruiser which had battled German warships during the Second World War and was later broken up at Faslane in 1967 although its stainless-steel ship’s bell still hangs proudly in Sheffield Cathedral.

(The later HMS Sheffield, of course, was a guided missile destroyer hit, and eventually sunk, by an Exocet missile fired by an Argentinian fighter plane during the Falklands War of 1982).

On the original Sheffield, Derry served as part of an escorting Royal Marines’ platoon to defend the Royal Yacht Britannia, built by John Brown in Clydebank and now retired as an exhibition vessel at Ocean Terminal, Leith.

After leaving the Marines, Derry served through the rest of the 1950s as a police officer in the Herefordshire Constabulary in his home county.

It was in 1959 that he first got into the licensing trade, as a regional sales representative and later supervisor for the Ind Coope brewery of Burton-on-Trent, during which, in the early-to-mid-1960s, he was a driving force behind selling Ind Coope beer to the lucrative market of British forces in Germany.

In the later 1960s, he was Ind Coope general sales manager for the north of England, based in Manchester, where he developed his love for Manchester City FC and became a lifelong friend of one of the team’s greatest players, Mike “Buzzer” Summerbee.

(It was one of Derry’s great delights to see City win the Premiership last year).

Derry’s love affair with Scotland, and Scotch, began in 1969 when he joined Bell’s Whisky, initially as sales manager for England and Wales and eventually as international sales director, based in Crieff, where he helped the legendary Bell’s chief Raymond Miquel boost sales ten-fold.

In 1981, he moved to Whitbread plc at a time when the historic brewing company saw its future in Scotch and other spirits. He found himself responsible for Long John, Tormore and Laphroaig whisky and latterly Beefeater gin.

After Whitbread sold its wine and spirits division to Allied Domecq in 1989 for £545 million, Derry decided to retire and moved to Florida the following year.

He settled on Longboat Key, a narrow strip of land on the Gulf of Mexico, part of Sarasota County, where he kept his hand in by setting up what he called the Longboat Beverage Corporation, producing and bottling tequila and bourbon, at first for the US market but later, using his contacts, around the world. After a few years, however, he gave up the licensing trade to take it easy and play golf.

By then, he had long since invested in the Loch Fyne restaurants venture, launched by his son Mark and fellow-entrepreneur Ian Glyn and based on the fresh produce of the oyster farm and famous oyster restaurant and bar at Cairndow by Loch Fyne.

The venture would soon become a chain of more than 40 seafood restaurants across the UK, including a branch at London’s Covent Garden, and was sold by Mark Derry and Glyn to Greene King in 2007 for a reported £68m.

Tony Derry was also, in the late 1980s, a director of Scottish Business in the Community (SBC), based on Heriot-Watt University campus, which strives to challenge and support business people to use their skills and knowledge to support local communities.

“In a sense he would have been a pioneer in that he was actively involved in a concept that is still difficult for many organisations to grasp -- CSR (corporate social responsibility),” SBC spokesman Todd Henshaw told The Scotsman.

“He would have been one of the first business people in Scotland, if not the world, to drive this agenda forward. The work he and his peers would have done has stood the test of time and has helped shape Scotland’s businesses to be more responsible and sustainable.”

One of Tony Derry’s other passions was horse racing. He co-owned a thoroughbred called Blender’s Choice.

During his retirement, he became used to the hurricanes or tropical storms that swept through the exposed Longboat Key, on Florida’s south-west coast as opposed to the more famous keys, including Key West, closer to Cuba.

Last year alone, his home survived Tropical Storms Debby and Isaac although much of Longboat Key was inundated and many homes damaged.

During Tropical Storm Isaac last August, Derry’s granddaughter Annabeth, on holiday from England, became a local celebrity in south-west Florida after being photographed trying to save baby turtles from a beach during the storm.

Anthony Derry died in his south-west Florida home by the Gulf of Mexico.

He is survived by his wife Marie Elaine (Micky), children Ann (of Sarasota, Florida), Ceri (of Crieff) and Mark (of London), four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and his sister Margaret in Gloucester.

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