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Biography of Norman 'Gordon' Edward Dunlop
This page is linked to our family history story about
Greenock baker John Brown. Gordon was the great grandson of John's sister
Elizabeth who had married Glasgow tobacconist and photographer Alfred
mother was known to us as 'Aunt May' who occasionally visited when we were
children. We did not know it then, but her parents and husband had died, and
her closest relative was a son named Gordon; we never met Gordon but later learnt through
another Aunt that Gordon had been a handsome young man.
We knew little about Gordon until coming across his
obituary, many years later, which was published in The Times (London,
England) on September 5th 1995.
Photo opposite: Gordon Dunlop
John Peter Cowan Dunlop (cousin)
Robert Nish Dunlop (uncle)
Here is a transcription of Gordon's obituary (ref 1):
Gordon Dunlop, CBE, finance director of
British Airways, 1983 – 1989, died from an aneurysm of the aorta on August
31st aged 67. He was born on April 16, 1928.
Gordon Dunlop was appointed
chief financial officer at British Airways by Sir John (later Lord) King in
1982 and finance director the following year. His brief was to turn the
debt-laden company around during the run up to privatisation, and to see it
through its flotation on the stock market.
Dunlop was a straight-talking
Scotsman, and he had the courage to take some uncomfortable but, with
hindsight, necessary decisions. He transformed the balance sheet, during his
six years with the company, from being laden with £1 billion of debt to a
much more fiscally respectable version.
On his arrival at British Airways,
Dunlop pointed out that, had this been a private company, it would have
already gone bust: "I regard my initial job as receiver-manager, working
with people there to draw up a credible plan for the shareholders".
was expecting BA to announce losses of £200 million in the summer of 1982,
he was optimistic, like Lord King, that the airline could eventually be
restored to profitability. As he pointed out, BA was a solidly established
airline, like Quantas and KLM, and could trade off the respectability of its
His appointment was a curiously apt conclusion to a career which had
begun at the aircraft manufacturer De Havilland in 1956. Norman Edward
Gordon Dunlop was born in Glasgow, the son of a chartered accountant. He was
Trinity College, Glenalmond, and trained as a chartered
accountant with Thomson McLintock in Glasgow.
His first job was with
Havilland and later the
Hawker Siddeley Group, after the merger of the two
companies. In 1964 he joined Commercial Union, one of Britain's largest
insurance groups, and took over from Francis (later Sir Francis) Sandilands
as chief executive in 1972, when Sandilands became chairman.
It was a
highly unusual appointment. When Sandilands had first gone headhunting for
someone to take his place at Commercial Union, he stipulated that he wanted
a man who was ignorant of insurance. Dunlop had not been wildly enthusiastic
about the job when first approached – he thought insurance was "too damned
dull" – but he capitulated. It was almost unheard of in those days in the
insurance business for a man of 44 who had spent only eight years learning
the ropes to be given such a promotion.
His five years there were bumpy
ones for Commercial Union. Dunlop favoured an aggressive expansionist
policy, particularly in American markets. Initially his ideas were accepted
with uncritical enthusiasm but in 1975 there was a downturn in the insurance
underwriting cycle, and the Commercial Union announced huge losses. The
company staged a good recovery the following year, but Dunlop's star with
Commercial Union was waning from that moment and, in June 1975, Dunlop
announced that he was resigning after disagreements with the rest of the
directors. Sandilands genuinely regretted his chief executive's departure,
and it was a cruel blow for Dunlop, who was still comparatively young, and
at the height of his career.
In 1979 he left for Singapore, where he became
a financial director on the board of Inchape Berhad, but three years later,
in 1982, he was recalled to Britain by King, who wanted him as his chief
financial officer and his right hand man. Colin (later Sir Colin) Marshall
became chief executive a year later in 1983.
King had been instructed by
Margaret Thatcher to press ahead with privatisation, and Dunlop developed an
imaginative set of strategies to manage BA's debt, and to bring it into line
for flotation on the stock market. His success was made all the more
remarkable, considering that he received no financial help from the
A tough policy of rationalisation – with many job losses – was
adopted and certain assets were sold off for cash, including aircraft to the
RAF. The airline's hopes that the Government would write off part of the
debt involved Dunlop in lengthy and ultimately frustrating negotiations with
He initiated other policies, such as revaluing the airline's
fleet, and devising a method of funding the purchase of aircraft by the use
of long term leases, a method which effectively kept the costs off the
balance sheet, and allowed BA to develop its future fleet plans while
keeping within borrowing requirements laid down by the Government. He dealt
skilfully with the implications of the acquisition of British Caledonian in
The mid to late 1980s were a boom period for the airlines all over
the world, and by the time privatisation took place in 1987, BA was making a
profit. Even though it still had debts on the balance sheet, the
privatisation was more successful than anyone could have foreseen, with
heavy demand for the shares from the British public.
Dunlop's brief was an
unusual one for a finance director. He had been brought in to get the
airline sold and, with the job done, he announced his early retirement in
1988. He left in 1989, the same year that he was appointed CBE. Now in his
early sixties, Dunlop looked around for some suitably challenging post.
However, while he went on to sit on the council of Lloyd's and on several
other company boards as a non-executive director, he never found another job
commensurate with his abilities.
He was in good health until only last
week, despite the fact that he had been a heavy smoker throughout his life.
He enjoyed finding ways around the restrictions placed on smokers by an
increasingly censorious society. For instance on internal flights in Britain
where smoking was banned, he would tell the stewardess that he was going to
visit the pilot and would sit on the flightdeck for the remainder of the
flight, smoking in peace.
He leaves his wife Jean, whom he married in 1952,
a son and a daughter.
Chartered accountant Gordon Dunlop CBE (1928 - 1995) was the
son of Ross Munn Dunlop (1886 - 1947) and
May Finlay Howell (1902 - 1980).
Cathcart cemetery, Glasgow, is a small memorial to
members of Gordon's family (ref 2). It lists,
Peter Dunlop, died 1894, Gordon's grandfather, who was a
Helen MacIntyre, died 1923, Gordon's grandmother
Robert Nish Dunlop, killed in action at Ypres in 1917,
Louis Benjamin West MC, died 1940, husband of Gordon's
Ross Munn Dunlop, died 1947, Gordon's father, who was a
May Finlay Howell, died 1980, Gordon's mother, who we
knew as 'Aunt May'
Perhaps Gordon had instigated this.
Click to view memorial on findagrave.com website
Not recorded on the memorial is Gordon's uncle, farmer,
John Brownlee Dunlop who emigrated from Scotland to Canada where he
married Jean Barbour Cowan at Winnipeg in 1914. Their son John Peter
Cowan Dunlop (1915 - 2006) was another notable member of the
family. He is said to have had communist leanings and served with the
British Battalion, 15th International Brigade, 1937 - 1938, during the
Spanish Civil War, when he was twice wounded.
His memories have been recorded by the Imperial War Museum.
Only days before finding this out, we had attended a U3A
General Franco and the
Spanish Civil War, given by historian Brian Chesney; we had not
previously realised that so many atrocities had been committed over many decades. A black
period of Spanish history!
John later was to confirm the death of his Aunt
Bessie, Elizabeth Helen Fraser West, or Dunlop, who died at George Street,
Glasgow, in 1963 (ref 3).
John Peter Cowan Dunlop, who had trained as an
accountant, returned to Edinburgh where he set up a printing business. He
died at Edinburgh in 2006.
Click to view their memorial on findagrave.com website
Gordon would not have known his uncle Robert who was a casualty of the Great
Click for memorial listing on findagrave.com
The body of Lance Corporal Robert Nish Dunlop 33174 Cameronians (Scottish
Rifles) 10th Bn was never found, but his death is recorded as 1st August 1917.
His name is recorded on the Menin
Gate Memorial which lists the missing, and also on the lengthy 'Roll of the
Fallen' at The High School Glasgow, the inscription of which begins:
TO THE OLD BOYS OF THE HIGH SCHOOL OF GLASGOW WHO IN THE GREAT WAR LAID DOWN
THEIR LIVES IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY
Louis Benjamin West
We wondered if Gordon ever met his aunt Bessie's husband Louis Benjamin
West, and whether the initials MC after the latter's name referred either to
Military Chaplain or Military Cross.
Click to view memorial on findagrave.com website
On 14th June 1915 the London Gazette reported Louis's appointment as a
temporary Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry, 18th Battalion, (4th
Glasgow). Perhaps, having been based in London, that was when he first met Bessie Dunlop.
After the Great War, on 1st August 1919, a supplement to the Edinburgh Gazette
reported the award of the Military Cross to a number of officers. The
citation for temporary Captain Louis Benjamin West, ACC, attd. 15th Corps,
Cyclist Bn, read:
During the pursuit of the enemy from August 30th to September 3rd, 1918, he
showed marked gallantry and ability. Time after time he set his men a
splendid example of dash and disregard of personal danger. The high standard
of work performed by his company was due to his fine leadership.
XV Corps was commanded by General Sinclair Henry Horne, who had been
educated at Southlea
School, Great Malvern, before going on to Harrow.
Louis's origins are obscure. He was born at Teddington in Surrey in 1884 and
baptised at the old church of St Peter and St Paul, which was rebuilt in
1979. The Baptism Register records that Louis was the son of clerk Benjamin
West, and Grace Annie West, and the new GRO on-line index of births records
that his mother's maiden name was Sangester, or possibly Sangster. The 1891
census recorded a Grace Annie Sangster, widow, occupation nurse, at a Lying
In hospital in London, which would have looked after women recuperating from
the birth of their children.
The 1901 census recorded Louis and his mother Grace living with dentist
William Woodall (1850 - 1920) at Trevor Square in Knightsbridge. Also in the
household were florists's assistant, Marie Henderson; a visitor and two
boarders - butcher's assistant Charles Tynell; and an Italian, Signor V
Grace was still with dentist William Woodall in 1911, at 30 Fulham Road, with
four boarders. Louis is then recorded boarding at 13 Nevern Place, Earls
Court; of the other boarders one is an engineer, one an artist, one a
retired army officer and one an actress. Louis himself is recorded as Louis
Benjamin West-Woodall, having no occupation. The artist was Maximilian Aurel
Reinitz, born Budapest Hungary about 1881. We wondered if this might be the
US based artist now known as Maximilian Aurel Reinitz Rasko 1883 - 1961
Born 1883 in Budapest, Hungary. Studied at the Royal Academy in Munich,
Germany, the Dresden Academy of Design and Painting in Transylvania, the
Normal School in Budapest, the Académie Julian in Paris, The Academy of Fine
Arts in Vienna, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome; was a portrait
painter, teacher, lecturer, and graphic artist. Member of the
where he exhibited.
In 1914 a man of similar name had left Liverpool for New York.
- The Times Digital Archive, obituaries, September 5th 1995
- Findagrave website
- National Probate Calendar
- The High School Glasgow website
- The London, and Edinburgh Gazettes
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