John Balfour: Obituary

Born: 28 July, 1919, in Woking, Surrey.

Died: 21 May, 2009, in Markinch, Fife, aged 89.

John Balfour was 20 when war was declared in 1939, having spent a year at Trinity College, Cambridge.

His next five years were spent in the 4th (Durham) Survey Regiment Royal Artillery in active service in the North African Campaign (he was awarded the Military Cross at El Alamein) and then in the Normandy Campaign where he landed on D-Day plus one. He reached the rank of major.

After the war, he returned to Balbirnie and following a period of illness with rheumatic fever he finished his degree at Cambridge in 1948. The rest of his life was centred on Balbirnie Estate, his family and his service to the community.

Post-war Britain gave farming new opportunities with support for investment in land improvement. John Balfour married Jean Drew in 1950 and together they developed Balbirnie Home Farms, making improvements to the estate, housing and to the woodlands.

At the same time, John helped set up Markinch Motors. In 1951, with the addition of Andy and Jimmy Bowen and Jean as directors, this became A & J Bowen and Co. Ltd. John was the chairman. The company prospered through the years of agricultural expansion and the development of new technology.

The family also ran a small sandpit which did well in the Fifties and Sixties when house building boomed. With a growing family (Robert, Alan and David), John and Jean moved after seven years at Newtonhall House to Balbirnie House which they shared with his mother Lady Ruth Balfour.

In 1968, after her death, the house and about 700 acres of the estate was acquired by the Glenrothes Development Corporation, necessitating a huge change for the family and the reconstruction of both residence and farming. The family had lived in Balbirnie House since 1642.

A new farm steading an expanded dairy and beef enterprise and a new, much smaller house were created. Throughout the rest of his life, John gave much of his time to voluntary work particularly to young people. He became an Elder of Kennoway Old from 1957-1960 and then at Markinch Parish Church from 1960 till his death, where the senior Elder and for many years kept the Roll.

In 1959, he became vice chairman and then a year later chairman of what is now known as Youth 1st (previously Fife Union of Mixed Clubs and Girls Clubs and then Youth Clubs Fife). He continued in the chair till 1980 and was made the first honorary president till 2007.

When he retired as chairman of the then Fife Union, there were 93 affiliated clubs compared with 30, two decades years before. In 1960, he became a member of the executive committee of the Scottish Association, now Youth Scotland. He went on to become vice chairman 1962-68 and then chairman 1968-79.

From 1979-94 he was president of the association. During his time with SAYC, he represented them on the Scottish Standing Conference of Voluntary Youth Organisation and the European Confederation of Youth Clubs. Of particular importance was his chairmanship of the training committee of the Standing Consultative Council for Youth and Community Service.

In 1973, John became a member of the newly formed Scottish Council for Alcohol and chairman of the Fife Alcohol Advisory Council from 1977-2002. This organisation broke new ground by setting up counselling and support for those with alcohol problems.

John’s endeavours helped achieve funding from central government. He was a member of the Inter-departmental committee on Children and Young Persons (Scotland) 1961-64 (Kilbrandon). This committee made far reaching recommendations by taking children out of the courts and dealing with them in the context of their families through Children’s Hearings.

These recommendations were quickly accepted by government and John became the first chairman of the Fife Children’s Panel following previous experience on the Juvenile Court. He was awarded the OBE for his work with young people.

He became chairman of the Fife Health Board from 1983-87 during which time he also served on the Whitley Committee dealing with salaries. After the Health Board he became a trustee of the Aids Trust and in that capacity he attended the funeral of the late Princess Diana in Westminster Abbey.

He was a deputy lieutenant from 1958 and vice lieutenant 1988-96. He served as a local director on the Royal Highland Agricultural Society 1964-67. Throughout a long life of service many of those who worked with him have referred to his wisdom in leadership, his personal integrity and his willingness to listen.

He is survived by his wife, Jean, three sons and ten grandchildren.