Obituary: Lord Glentoran

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The Independent Online
The history of Belfast in its heyday is the history of its mercantile families, the entrepreneurs whose energy and money-sense built it into one of the great industrial cities towards the end of the 19th century - Pirrie of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, Ewart and Mulholland in linen manufacture, Mackie and Davidson in engineering and the Dixon family in politics. Daniel Stewart Thomas Bingham Dixon, fourth baronet and second Baron Glentoran, was the last of that family to have been heavily involved in politics.

When Belfast became a city with a Lord Mayor instead of a mayor, the first to hold that office in 1893 was his grandfather, Daniel Dixon. Starting as a builder's merchant, he imported timber, acquired his own shipping line and in the days when the city was expanding explosively, both in the inner wards and the suburbs, built himself the considerable Dixon fortune. He was responsible for the creation, in 1906, of Belfast's magnificent City Hall.

Daniel Dixon was made a baronet in 1903, and served as an MP for North Belfast. His second son, Herbert, having fought both in the Boer War and in the First World War, came back to politics, serving simultaneously as Westminster member and in the infant parliament of Northern Ireland. He became a prominent figure in the first Unionist government and was created a peer, Baron Glentoran, in 1939.

Herbert's elder son Daniel, after Eton and Sandhurst, served with the Grenadier Guards in France, North Africa, Sicily, Italy and, after the Second World War, in Palestine. He was mentioned in despatches, and finished with the rank of lieutenant- colonel. On the death of his father, the first Baron, in 1950, he was elected to the Bloomfield seat in the Stormont House of Commons, where he remained for 11 years.

From 1953 until 1961, he was Minister of Commerce where he took charge, with a large degree of success, of the new industries drive. His visit to the United States in 1960, which resulted in Bridgport Brass, a large American firm, setting up a plant in Northern Ireland, was the precursor of many more trips by his successors and established a system of wooing and winning American and other foreign industry for the province which bore substantial fruit in terms of investment and employment throughout the Sixties.

In 1961 he resigned from the Stormont House of Commons and moved to the Senate as Minister of State. He later became Speaker of the Senate from 1964 until 1972 when incipient Parkinson's disease induced his retirement.

Although an efficient minister he was never a natural politician with easy popular com- munication skills. One former Young Unionist recalls his first election campaign in Bloomfield in 1950: "There was no more wan or displaced person than Danny Glentoran on the back of an election lorry."

The solid family connection with and services to the City of Belfast was reinforced by his appointment from 1950 until 1985, first as HM Lieutenant and then as Lord-Lieutenant. He was active in many other varied fields, as a member of the Belfast Water Commissioners and as Chairman of the Lord Roberts Memorial Workshops.

At his home, Drumadarragh, Co Antrim, he kept a Blackface pedigree flock and - an acknowledged authority on sheep farming - won many awards. As with his father before him, horses were close to his heart and at the other family home, Ballyalloly in Co Down, the stables were always full of both hunters and bloodstock. At the auction of the Ballyalloly house in 1961, eight oil-paintings were sold - seven of racehorses and one of King William of Orange on his traditional white charger. Lord Glentoran had been a past Master of a Belfast Orange Lodge. A retired civil servant recalls how the Speaker of the Senate was invariably absent during the week of Royal Ascot and how his place was always taken by Senator Paddy McGill, a Nationalist. Glentoran, unassuming, courteous, never aggressive or abrasive, had the most easy relationships with political opponents.

In 1933 he married Lady Diana Wellesley, a descendant of the Duke of Wellington, who predeceased him in 1984. They had two sons and a daughter. His elder son, Robin, who now succeeds, achieved international fame as 1964 Winter Olympics gold medallist in the Bobsleigh and, though prominent in public life, especially in promoting a positive image of Belfast, has eschewed any involvement in politics.

Roy Bradford

Daniel Stewart Thomas Bingham Dixon, politician: born 19 January 1912; succeeded 1950 as second Baron Glentoran 1950; Member of Parliament (Unionist) for Bloomfield Division of Belfast, Northern Ireland Parliament, 1950-61; Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Commerce 1952-53, Minister of Commerce 1953-61, Minister in Senate 1961-72, Speaker of Senate 1964-72; married 1933 Lady Diana Wellesley (died 1984; two sons, one daughter); died 22 July 1995.