Obituary: William Ian Stewart, Lord Allanbridge, judge
Born: 8 November, 1925, in Bridge of Allan. Died: 21 June, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 86.
William Ian Stewart’s father was a well-known architect in Glasgow, but he and his wife chose to live in Bridge of Allan, where Ian and his younger brother George were brought up. Ian was very fond of Bridge of Allan and maintained contact with his many boyhood friends there throughout his life. This connection is significant because when he was appointed as a Senator of the College of Justice in 1977 he was required to assume a judicial title.
He was unable to use his surname because there was a Lord Stewart already on the Bench, and so with much ingenuity and after considerable family discussion, he came up with the title of Lord Allanbridge, reflecting not only the dignity of his office but also his affection for his home town.
Like many boys in his circumstances, Ian was educated at boarding school, at Loretto, where he performed with distinction. Being a wartime schoolboy, he volunteered to join one of the services on leaving school and elected to become an Ordinary Seaman in the RNVR, but of an unusual kind. He was enrolled in what was called the University Naval Short Course, combining the academic with the nautical.
It involved six months of training in the refined atmosphere of Downing College, Cambridge, where bell-bottom trousers and the “square rig” competed with the gown. Navigation and shiphandling were taught on the river Cam, and dances took place at the Dorothy Café and Houghton Hall, where he demonstrated considerable skill on the dancefloor.
Interestingly, Ian, who later held high office under the Conservatives, became a member of the University Labour Club which gave him a shilling’s reduction on dance tickets. His comfortable student life came to an end with square-bashing at HMS Raleigh and sea-training on the Forth in a cruiser where accommodation consisted of closely hung hammocks and 6am starts, scrubbing decks with sea-water in bare feet.
None of this caused Ian, with his cheerful disposition, any problem after his experience of boarding school, and he was duly selected for officer training at HMS King Alfred, in Brighton. Three months of intensive activity there turned out a very polished Acting Temporary Sub Lieutenant RNVR.
His first posting was to a frigate, HMS Loch Killin. This ship had the distinction of sinking several U-boats, which did not hear their approach because of a new weapon called “The Squid”. It fired depth charges forward instead of dropping them astern, thus ensuring that the U-boat did not hear the engines of the frigate passing overhead.
One of these sinkings occurred during Ian’s service, south-west of Land’s End, and while he was proud of this success, he was also relieved that many of the German crew were rescued. On leaving the navy in 1946, he chose to study at Glasgow University and, having graduated MA, he transferred to Edinburgh where he obtained the degree of LLB and so began to prepare for his distinguished career at the Bar.
While he was studying in Edinburgh he made many friends, and his irrepressible enthusiasm for life made him very popular, although occasionally his forthright manner caused some embarrassment. Later on, after he was married, his beloved wife Joan would gently but firmly restrain his exuberance if she thought it had gone too far.
Ian was called to the Bar in 1951 and quickly made his mark. Along with several young members of the Bar, he occupied a house in Abercromby Place which became not only a set of successful chambers but also a haven of generosity and hospitality.
At the same time Ian’s interest in politics grew and he stood as the Conservative candidate for West Lothian in 1962, but in the face of formidable competition from Tam Dalyell, he became the first Tory to lose his deposit, something he enjoyed relating against himself.
Ian’s interests outside politics and the Bar were walking and sailing; he had an unusually long stride and great energy and so was well known for being in the forefront of his companions either on the hills or the flat. The Lake District was one of his favourite places and once a year he would go to Buttermere and walk with a group of friends he met there.
As for his sailing, he was a regular member of the crew on a yacht owned by Norman Wylie, later Lord Wylie, based at Crinan; it is reported that on one occasion when Ian was loading a case of wine from the dinghy onto the yacht both he and the wine fell overboard. At that point a voice was heard to shout: “For God’s sake save the wine!” History does not relate which got priority.
In 1955 Ian married Joan Douglas, the daughter of a well-known farmer from Kirkcudbrightshire; they had two children, John and Angela. He was a devoted father and grandfather and derived great comfort from his family after Joan’s death in 2005.
Ian’s career at the bar was extensive and diverse. In addition to his civil practice he joined the Crown Office as an Advocate Depute in 1959, serving there until 1964 when, as was customary in those days, he had to demit office because of a change of government; he was reappointed to the Crown Office on the return to power of the Conservatives in 1970 as Home Advocate Depute and then in 1972 became Solicitor General. In 1974, the Labour Party returned to power, and Ian demitted office again. He was appointed Sheriff Principal of Dumfries and Galloway, which, to his intense pleasure, gave him the opportunity to sail in the Pharos on the annual inspection of the lighthouses administered by the Northern Lighthouse Board; he continued as Sheriff Principal until he went onto the Bench in 1977.
Ian was a wise and careful judge who took pains to understand the problems he had to resolve, particularly cases involving the welfare of children, and his judgments were clear and to the point. Latterly he spent several years in the Appeal Court, eventually retiring as a full-time judge in 1995. Subsequently, he was asked to join the Court of Appeal in Botswana, and this in many ways was for him one of the most enjoyable periods of his judicial career.
He loved the country and the people and was popular with the other judges of the court who appreciated his forthright judgments. He also made many friends there, including Ruth Khama, the widow of Seretse Khama, and their family.
His retirement years were full and active until the loss of his wife in 2005. He never fully got over that tragedy and his deteriorating physical condition began to affect his quality of life. Latterly he was looked after by his daughter Angela and a team of dedicated and loyal carers, of whom he could not speak highly enough.
This, and his innate strength of character and determination, enabled him to remain at home until his death on 21 June. He will be sadly missed by his son John and daughter Angela, his grandchildren Ian and Naomi, and his many friends, who will remember him in the prime of his life, and also recall with gratitude and affection that in his company there was never a dull moment.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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