Lord David Balgonie

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LORD DAVID BALGONIE Landowner

Born: 26 January, 1954, near Nairn. Died: 14 February, 2007, in Verbier, aged 53.

DAVID Balgonie, who died in a skiing accident in the Swiss Alps, was a much respected figure in the Highlands and a noted public servant.

He was the eldest son of the 14th Earl of Leven and Melville, a noted former president of the British Ski Federation who taught his son to ski at the age of six. David Balgonie grew to become an expert and passionate skier.

Reports of the incident in which he died suggest that he and a friend went off piste to ski in deep, fresh snow. Unfortunately, the pair appear to have been caught in an avalanche and were discovered under seven feet of snow.

David Alexander Leslie Melville, Lord Balgonie, was born into one of Scotland's oldest families. The title dates from 1641 when the first earl led the army of the Covenanters in the Bishops' Wars.

Balgonie was educated at Eton and then joined the Queen's Own Highlanders serving for some time in Northern Ireland. For his conduct during that tour of duty Balgonie was awarded the General Service Medal.

There followed some years during which Balgonie was a director of Wood Conversion Ltd in Hertfordshire, but, in 1998, he returned north to take over the management of the family estate at Glenferness, outside Nairn.

The house is an A listed building and Balgonie was keen to extend the facilities it offers to the public.

In 1998, he planned to replace a passageway dating from the 17th century connecting the house to two chalets in the grounds. The plans had to be given final approval by the Scottish Executive because of the historic nature of Glenferness House.

The sporting facilities on the River Findhorn under Balgonie's stewardship were considerably improved with advice from the Findhorn District Fishery Board. He also supervised the improvement of the two lodges/chalets which were popular with anglers, shooters and tourists.

Balgonie was a passionate winter sports enthusiast: an excellent skier and one of much experience. The accident occurred as Balgonie and his companion were about to make the last downhill run of their holiday.

Both were sensible and cautious skiers and carried modern safety equipment. That included, according to the Swiss police report, avalanche detectors.

The friends were reported missing on Wednesday. However, bad weather prevented a major search until Thursday. The two were located by a helicopter carrying beacon antennae. The weather had been warm of late and such conditions can result in avalanches.

Balgonie was a warm hearted and generous man: much liked in Morayshire. The chairwoman of the East Nairn Community Council, Debbie McBean, told The Scotsman yesterday, that: "It is particularly sad as David was doing a sport he loved and had done all his life. He just adored skiing. He was a popular figure in Nairn: chairman of the Glenferness village hall, a keen supporter of the British Legion and Deputy Lieutenant of the County.

"David was a lovely man and one of those people who was at home with everyone.

"I have never heard anyone say a word against him."

Balgonie married Julia Crichtley in 1981. She and their son and daughter survive him. The son, Alexander, inherits the title.