John Balfour: Public servant active in the fields of health and children's welfare

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The Independent Online

Among the most demanding tasks in the public service is the chairmanship of a major health board. Over four difficult years of Government–imposed financial retrenchment (from 1983-87), and shortage of resources to meet the rising expectations created by modern medicine, John Balfour chaired the Fife Health Board with skill and vision. His commitment to improving the health service impressed Scottish MPs, and his impeccable good manners and knowledge of their problems endeared him to staff at all levels. He was among the first to confront the problem of Aids as a priority, and was closely associated with Princess Diana in her work.

John Balfour was the second son of Brigadier Edward Balfour CVO, DSO, MC, OBE and a Colonel of the Scots Guards, and Lady Ruth Balfour CBE. John's elder brother, Peter, was chairman of Charterhouse plc, and for 20 years a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland. From Eton, John went to Trinity College, Cambridge for a year, before the Second World War intervened. He volunteered on the outbreak of war and was posted to the 4th (Durham) Survey Regiment of the Royal Artillery. Their work was crucial to Montgomery's initial success at El Alamein, and Balfour, aged 23, was awarded the Military Cross.

Having gone through the North African campaign, and Normandy, where he landed on D-Day plus one, he was stricken with rheumatic fever. However, he was able to return to Trinity in October 1946, completing his degree a year later in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos. He spoke to me of the particular kindness of Cambridge dons towards ex-servicemen who had been away from their studies for six years.

In 1950, Balfour married a hugely energetic science graduate of Edinburgh University, Jean Drew, daughter of the distinguished soldier, Major-General Sir James Syme Drew. Dr Jean Balfour CBE, FRSE, as she became, was the successful, effective and pioneering Chairman of the Countryside Commission of Scotland between 1972 and 1982.

From the early 1950s, Balfour and his dynamo of a wife – he sometimes gave the misleading impression of a being a laidback old Etonian – developed Balbirnie Home Farm at Cupar, Fife, and made improvements in estate housing and woodlands which were an example to others. Setting up Markinch Motors with James Bowen, he led a company which was among those responsible for dramatic improvements in farm machinery. However, in the late 1960s, the Balfour family had to quit the 700 acres of Balbirnie, where they had lived since 1642, to make way for the new town of Glenrothes, providing housing for miners at two huge coal mines (which proved to be a geological disaster).

Henceforth, Balfour's farming operations were on a smaller scale. More and more, he devoted himself to Youth Scotland, and membership of the Alcohol Advisory Council. He was a member of Lord Kilbrandon's Inter-departmental Committee on Children and Young Persons, Scotland (1963-1964), which laid the foundations for a system of children's panels, in an area where Scottish practice was a subject of interest throughout Europe. Balfour believed that children's crimes should, where sensible, be taken out of the courts and dealt with in the context of their families through children's hearings. Balfour was made an OBE for his work with young people.

His last public service was as an influential member of the Whitley council, dealing with health service remuneration throughout Britain, and as a trustee of the Aids Trust.

Tam Dalyell

John Charles Balfour, soldier, farmer and public servant: born Woking 28 July 1919; served in the Royal Artillery in North Africa and Normandy, 1939- 1945, MC 1943; Chairman, Fife Area Health Board, 1983-1987; OBE 1978; married 1950 Dr Jean Drew (three sons); died Markinch, Fife 21 May 2009.