Scotsman Obituaries: Sheila Dickson, golf champion and pony breeder
She was born in the aftermath of the “war to end all wars”, when George V was on the throne and the Roaring Twenties were yet to unfurl in all their exuberance.
Young Sheila Stroyan was fortunate to arrive into a world of privilege – of finishing schools, debutantes and sprawling family estates with retinues of retainers – and enjoyed a lifestyle long-vanished today, living in her grandfather’s Perthshire castle.
Her father, Captain John Stroyan, was a barrister whose family had built up a fortune in South African gold mines and breweries. Her mother, Margaret Ropner, was part of a shipping family.
But when she was just eight and her brother Alan only three, her idyllic childhood was rocked by the death of their mother, killed in 1927 in a car accident north of Doune, near their home.
Raised mainly at Lanrick Castle, surrounded by cousins who became her closest friends, Sheila and her brother also spent time with maternal grandparents in Yorkshire. And when their father bought a house in Sunningdale, they settled there where Sheila had a governess until going to St George’s School in Ascot.
Her golfing prowess emerged when, aged 12, she was encouraged by her father, a successful golfer, to take up the sport. She agreed – on condition she was also allowed to ride ponies.
They travelled together, playing courses throughout Britain, often participating in father and daughter competitions. By the age of 15 Sheila was a scratch golfer and soon she was winning medals.
She first turned out for Scotland in the Girls Home International match in 1935, going on to captain the national team from 1936-1938, and was Danish Ladies champion in 1936.
Two years later she won the Girls Open Championship, having been a semi-finalist in each year from 1935-37. She also took the Dutch Ladies Championship title in 1937, 1938 and 1939, making the French Ladies Open as a semi-finalist in 1939. After leaving school she was “finished” in Paris and became a debutante, presented at Court with a coming out ball at Lanrick Castle.
In addition to sharing a talent for golf – she had a handicap of +2 – Sheila and her father also shot and fished together and made annual trips to South Africa when the voyage on a Union Castle liner would turn into a three-week party as Sheila entertained a group of friends.
She also skied in Switzerland, where holidays included transport on horse-drawn sleighs.
Aged 19 she went to America to play in the US women’s championship in Noroton, Connecticut. It was late summer and the Second World War was looming. Returning home by sea she heard Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s address, broadcast over the ship’s loudspeakers, announcing Britain was at war with Germany. The conflict marked the end of Sheila’s golfing career.
During the war she became a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, looking after injured soldiers at Blair Drummond. There she nursed her future husband, David Dickson, through a bout of jaundice. His family home was Glassingall near Dunblane and they had known each other as children. They married in Mayfair in 1943, settled in Suffolk and went on to have four children. Having lost her mother at such a young age, family was always enormously important to Sheila, who had 14 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.
Another large part of her life was a love of ponies. She rode to hounds and in competitions in her youth and first attended Ascot at the age of 12. As her family grew up, she began breeding show ponies for her children to ride and established the Daldorn Stud, spending years travelling around England towing a caravan behind a horsebox as she took her girls to pony shows.
A member of the British Show Pony and Arab Horse Societies, she was renowned in horse circles, breeding champions that won competitions all over the country, from the London International Horse Show to the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston. She never missed a Horse of the Year show in six decades and only stopped attending when she was 90. Her impressive legacy remains with the Daldorn name carried on by, firstly, her daughter Margaret Benton Jones and subsequently by her granddaughter, Fiona Farquharson.
She also adored gardening and delighted in creating two beautiful gardens in Suffolk, sowing and cultivating hundreds of flowers each year. As a result, the herbaceous borders were a riot of vibrant blooms and the house was always scented with sweet peas, peonies and roses. Later in the year she filled the rooms with dahlias and gladioli.
A keen photographer, she captured the beauty of flowers with the latest cameras, even developing her own prints at one time, and left a library of albums of flowers, children, horses and countries she had visited.
She moved to back to Lanrick more than a decade ago to live nearer family but, as a nonagenarian, her enthusiasm for life remained undimmed: she visited Burma, Borneo and Bali, trekked with camels and rode elephants in India
Predeceased by her husband, she is survived by their children Margaret, Maureen, Alistair and Jeanie and large extended family.
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