Obituary: Sir Patrick Macrory

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The Independent Online
Patrick Arthur Macrory, lawyer, businessman and writer: born Limavady, Co Londonderry 21 March 1911; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1937; Director, Unilever Ltd 1968-71; Chairman, Review Body on Local Government in Northern Ireland 1970; Director, Bank of Ireland Group 1971-79; Director, Rothman Carreras Ltd 1971-82; Kt 1972; Chairman, Merchant Ivory Productions 1976-92; married 1939 Elizabeth Lewis (three sons, and one daughter deceased); died Tadworth, Surrey 3 May 1993.

PATRICK MACRORY spent all of his working life in England yet remained the staunchest of Ulstermen and a defender of the Union. He was a strong critic of the abolition of Stormont by the Heath government in 1972 and in that same year, before a special session of the US Congress, defended the local parliament's record.

He was well qualified to speak on the subject for in 1970 he had been released by Unilever, where he was then a working director, to chair a fundamental review of local government in Northern Ireland. It was then that I first met him when I was Minister of Development at Stormont, and later years charged with the implementation of the Macrory Report.

Under the report, urban district, rural district and county councils were all abolished, their responsibilities for health care, education and planning transferred to Stormont and their remaining powers over things like dustbins and burial of the dead vested in 26 district councils. The removal of Stormont, never envisaged under the report, produced the famous Macrory Gap, eventually filled with largely nominated quangos to handle those important local government functions administered by councils in the rest of the UK.

Macrory, I know, was aghast at the democratic deficit thus produced and from which the province is still suffering, after he had expended so much time and diplomatic ingenuity in devising a system which could have been admirably effective and for which he was knighted in 1972.

Macrory was born in 1911 at Limavady, in Co Londonderry, on the property he later inherited. His career was polyvalent. After school in Donegal, Cheltenham and Trinity College, Oxford, he was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1937. Following a brief spell as a parliamentary draftsman and four years service during the war he joined Unilever in 1947 where he became a director in 1968.

His legal experience was enlisted when he served on the Devlin Commission of Inquiry into Industrial Representation and on a Committee on the Preparation of Legislation. He was also treasurer of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and maintained his business connections as a director of Rothman Carreras and of the Bank of Ireland. Eight years on the Northern Ireland Development Council and on the regional committee of the CBI was testimony to his continuing desire to serve his native place.

But his most off-beat and probably most satisfying accomplishment was as a writer of military histories and reminiscences, books written in his spare time and which sold well.

The first, Borderline, published when he was just 21 was a thriller, largely autobiographical. His second, 30 years later, showed a matured talent for racy story-telling and a nice sceptical humour. Signal Catastrophe was a professional reconstruction of the massacre in 1842 of a British Indian contingent retreating from Kabul. Altogether 16,000, including women and children, were slaughtered by the Afghans.

His last book, published last year, was The Ten Rupee Jezail on the same subject. Its genesis illustrates one of Macrory's most admirable characteristics, his loyalty, like Burke's, to his own platoon whether of place or of family. His maternal grandfather was a General Brabazon Pottinger who has given his name to an area in East Belfast. Macrory's co-author on the last book was a relative, George Pottinger, former permanent UnderSecretary in the Scottish Office and jailed for corruption in the Poulson scandal of 1974.

It was this interest in Indian history sparked by ancestral links with the Indian Army which brought about Macrory's unlikely alliance with the Merchant Ivory partnership of filmmakers. They planned to make a film based on one of his books, Lady Sale's Journal (1969), and the fall-out from the friendship included Macrory playing a vampire in a home video and later with his wife, walk-on parts in the acclaimed production of EM Forster's Room With a View (1986). Macrory was Chairman of the Merchant Ivory production company from 1976 to 1992.

He had many enviable social strings to his bow. A most genial company man, never short of an anecdote for the golf-club bar or for the loftier reaches of the Athenaeum, he dabbled, but with a dedicated zeal to excel, in conjuring amateur theatre and academic doggerel.

One is tempted - and he would assuredly not have objected - to reproduce his hardiest limerick:

A vice most obscure but unsavory

Held the Master of Balliol in slavery

With lecherous howls he deflowered

young owls

Which he kept in an underground aviary.

In contrast his most serious historical work was The Siege of Derry (1980). The defence of the city near to his birthplace he regarded as the hinge on which turned the Glorious Revolution, for him the epiphany of English Liberty. As we say in Ireland, you can take the man out of Derry but you cannot take Derry out of the man.

(Photograph omitted)