Earl of Balfour

4th Earl of Balfour, farmer

Born: 23 December, 1925, in Haddington Died: 27 June, 2003, in Haddington, aged 77

GERALD Arthur James Balfour inherited the title of earl (and that of Viscount Traprain) in 1968 on the death of his father who had been a nephew of the first earl, the former prime minister AJ Balfour, who held that office from 1902 to 1905.

Gerald Balfour was a quiet, self-effacing man who was much respected throughout East Lothian. He was very much at home in the House of Lords, where the polite and well- mannered exchanges rather suited his own temperament and personality. He carried out his duties in the Lords with an enthusiastic relish. His meticulous attention to the English language ensured many bills were correctly drafted and properly phrased.

He was naturally left-handed but, as a child, was forced to write with his right hand. This, it is thought, led to certain reading difficulties throughout his life - which he conquered by reading very slowly and with a dictionary always to hand.

Balfour attended Eton but left at 16 to join the merchant navy. He studied at HMS Conway and was to spend, in all, 33 eventful years with the merchant navy. On his first tour of duty, during the Second World War, his ship was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean and he spent four days in an open raft. Two years later, as part of a flotilla transporting troops and vital supplies on the North Atlantic run, his ship was again torpedoed, off the coast of Newfoundland. After some months recuperation, he was back at his duties.

Balfour was to remain with the merchant navy until 1958, by which time he had gained his Master’s Certificate and had rounded Cape Horn. He was to remain a proud president of the International Association of Cape Horners until his death.

He moved to Whittingehame in the late 1950s to farm and was soon deeply involved with the affairs of the community. He served on East Lothian County Council from 1960 to 1975 and was made a justice of the peace in 1970.

While Balfour was a working farmer, much of his energies were devoted to the House of Lords. He studied bills (despite his reading difficulties) with a fine tooth-comb and ensured they left the upper chamber in a manageable and workable state. On one occasion, he raised 53 objections on technicalities, questionable English and erratic editing. A chief whip was heard to mumble: "I suppose we should be grateful to the noble lord."

He intervened in debates on subjects about which he was well versed - in particular, those involving seafaring matters and those relating to Scotland. He was principally concerned about local authority affairs and housing in Scotland. He was also aware of the agricultural concerns of his neighbours in the Lothians and the Borders, and was only too happy to pursue such matters with senior officials in the department of agriculture.

He is remembered locally as "a gentle soul" who liked to help people without making a song and dance about it. He much preferred non-confrontational meetings with officials and colleagues, rather than protracted ones involving angry words.

The Clark family have been tenant farmers on the Balfour estate for more than 100 years and the current tenant, Jimmy Clark, remembers Balfour as "an amiable and kindly man". He says: "Any differences were always settled very amicably."

Apart from being available to help those in the Haddington area, Balfour assisted many mariners’ societies, in particular the Dolphin Society, which has a training ship in Leith. He was also a member of the Speculative Society of Edinburgh.

One thing is for certain: Christmas and New Year at Whittingehame will lack a certain lustre this year. For many years, Balfour had the entire village up to The Tower, and he himself proceeded to cook fish and chips for everyone: children first. He said it was remarkably easy after negotiating rough seas in the merchant navy and having to put up with ships’ inadequate galleys.

The Balfours first moved to the village in 1817 and an exhibition of the life and times of Whittingehame is currently on display at the village hall. Many of the exhibits depict a rural lifestyle of a bygone era and some of the photographs are connected to the Balfour family

Despite being in failing health for several months - he had been diagnosed as having cancer some time ago - the courage of this invariably courteous and modest man never left him. His last months were full of dignity and colour, and it was significant that the Kirk of Whittingehame was over flowing for his funeral.

The Balfour family motto is Virtus ad aethera tendit (Virtue stretches to the skies). The fourth earl upheld that with much style.

Balfour married Natasha Lousada in 1956. She died in 1994 and he is survived by his two sisters and a step-daughter. The title passes to his nephew, Eustace Balfour.