Obituary: David Paton, 9th Baron of Grandhome, business, arts and charity leader

David Paton of Grandhome
David Paton of Grandhome
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David Paton of Grandhome, laird and business leader. Born: 5 March 1935 at Grandhome, Aberdeenshire. Died: 4 February 2019 at Grandhome, Aberdeenshire, aged 83.

The help, support, guidance and leadership of David Paton of Grandhome appeared through every slice of public life in north-east Scotland. His ubiquity spread through business, arts, charity and the built environment.

Never a mere committee player, he proved a hands-on leader, chairing, directing, managing, instrumental in making things happen, while eschewing failure and lost causes. The list of organisations with which he was involved runs to three A4 pages.

Ever smartly turned out, David Romer Paton, 9th Baron of Grandhome, OBE KStJ DL FRICS, FSAScot, holder of an honorary doctorate in business administration from Robert Gordon University, laird and landowner, could so easily have represented conservatism with or without a capital C. His commitment sprang however from old family traditions of the Radical and the Liberal, spending half-a-century working to improve the lot of his brother man and sister woman, and whose final project establishing a model township.

Success was his watchword. A quarter of a century as board member and chairman saw him steer Aberdeen Harbour Board into a new oil age, developing the port as a 24-hour business open regardless of tide or day of the week. He did this in a haven whose roots go back 900 years, and whose overseeing body is recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest corporate body in the UK.

Mr Paton modestly brushed away compliments with “I’m just lucky”. But that “luck” was actually rooted in being fully briefed and personal preparation. His deft touch in the chair belied a near-ferocious reputation for keeping meetings short, and he famously established what surely qualifies as an Olympic record in once disposing of an AGM inside five minutes.

A lifetime lover of the built environment, his reputation for lateral thinking became almost literal, when as chairman of the North East Scotland Preservation Trust, he led the saving of a historic tollhouse near Turriff by having moved it several feet sideways, giving new life to a building otherwise condemned as a traffic hazard. This passion for reinstatement of glory rather demolition typified his passion for architecture and intelligent conservation. The young Paton emerged into the world inheriting parental humanity. His mother had been a prison visitor and founder of the second family planning clinic in Scotland. From his half-Greek father came dedication to public life, a place as an international bridge player, and an interest in linguistics across Hungarian, French, Danish and Spanish, plus a fair grasp of Scots. The young David’s nearest involvement in politics was when as a land agent in Suffolk, he became elected to the local council as an independent.

Educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, Gordonstoun and Oxford (“Ghastly place” he once said of university), he worked on a tobacco farm in the then Southern Rhodesia and as a sugar-cropper in Natal.

His vision of an emergent new Grandhome follows his motto Audacia Et Virtute Adepta (acquired by audacity and virtue), a near self-sustaining community with its own shops and small businesses, a place designed to be architecturally attractive. Another Poundbury, he was asked? “Better than Poundbury” came the response.

David Paton could read the weather forecast, and make it funny. Two decades ago, at an Edinburgh function, Princess Anne, the Princess Royal spoke. She made a workmanlike speech, but Mr Paton’s vote of thanks caused near-unsuccessful controlling of Royal mirth, while the rest of the company collapsed in tears of laughter.

A near teetotaller who once could smoke for Scotland, donor of an annual Christmas tree to St Machar’s Cathedral, absolute grammarian and possessor of vigour and looks that defied his many years on the planet, David Paton of Grandhome enthusiastically embraced everything in life except lost causes.

His support to reopen Aberdeen’s Tivoli Theatre (where Charlie Chaplin once trod the boards) appeared at odds to his philosophy, for the Frank Matcham-designed Tivoli seemed beyond saving. That this little theatre now flourishes proved his constant ability to see the bigger picture.

In 1975, he married Juliette née Burney, and their long and contented marriage produced two sons, William, younger of Grandhome, who manages the estate; and Matthew, a communications consultant. David doted both on his family and three grandchildren, and his dogs.

He died at home after a long illness.

GORDON CASELY