Obituary: Viscount Rochdale
Tuesday 08 June 1993
VISCOUNT ROCHDALE had a life of tremendous variety which combined numerous appointments in industry, active service both in the Army and the House of Lords, and a real love of the countryside.
He was born John Kemp in 1906 at Rochdale and after education at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, he joined his father's company, Kelsall and Kemp, woollen manufacturers, in 1928. He became the company's chairman after the Second World War.
Unlike his father, he was a Conservative and he became Chairman of the Rochdale Association in the 1930s. Also at this time he joined the Territorial Army and during the war he saw active service in the UK, Europe, India and the Pacific, where he was attached to the US forces. He rose to the rank of Brigadier and was appointed OBE in 1945, later becoming Honorary Colonel of the 251 Field Regiment RA (Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry). In 1945 John Kemp inherited a barony on the death of his father. As Lord Rochdale he seemed to acquire the propensity to be chosen to deal with highly sensitive and difficult issues, the first of which was his appointment as Chairman to the Cotton Board in 1957.
The Lancashire trade was under serious threat from unrestricted imports from the Indian sub-continent and Hong Kong, but despite his background in wool, his acquired knowledge of the cotton trade combined with his infinite patience, his high capacity for taking pains and his integrity enabled him to win some respite, if only temporarily, for the hard- pressed industry in Lancashire. His reward after these exceedingly difficult negotiations was elevation to a viscountcy.
His next challenges concerned maritime matters. In 1961 he became Chairman of the committee of inquiry into the principal ports and afterwards the first Chairman of the National Ports Council. In 1971 he became Chairman of the Harland & Wolff Shipbuilding Company, in Belfast, until it was reorganised by the government in 1975. This was yet another hot seat - the firm was in grave financial difficulty incurring high losses. It was one of John Rochdale's great strengths that he was liked and respected by both sides of whatever the divide might be; a great tribute to his complete fairness in all his dealings.
Among the many appointments he held throughout his long career he was President of the National Union of Manufacturers and the Economic League, a Governor of the BBC and director of several banks and industrial companies.
Rochdale remained throughout and until very recently an active member of the House of Lords and he had been a member of the Select Committee on European Affairs.
All this should not overwhelm his equal interest and enthusiasm for country matters. He had inherited a world-wide collection of rhododendrons and some fine trees at Lingholm, near Keswick, in Cumberland, but he added greatly to these and much improved the gardens and woodland walks adjoining Derwentwater which for some years have been greatly enjoyed by numerous people.
He took much pleasure in visiting his farms and walking the fells. With his mass of snow-white hair, upright bearing and brisk pace, he cut an imposing figure with whom it was difficult to keep up, let alone abreast. His invariable physical fitness can be attributed to the fact that he was a Christian Scientist for many years.
Rochdale had many interests. He flew his own plane before the war and he had a great love and understanding of music, possessing a fine voice himself. He travelled widely which earned him friends throughout the world. Despite his very full life he devoted much time to his family, which included many nephews and nieces. Although he had a highly serious outlook on life he also possessed a keen sense of humour. No doubt it was partly due to this that he was held in such affection and respect by family, friends and business associates alike.
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