Sir Alan Dawtry, CBE, TD (1915-2018) obituary

Born 1915, died 2018. A gradute of the School of Law (LLB Law 1937, Hon LLD 2007).

Sir Alan Dawtry

The University was very sad to learn recently of the death of Sir Alan Dawtry, our oldest alumnus.

Sir Alan was 102 at the time of his death and was a graduate of the School of Law (LLB 1937), as well as the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Laws in 2007 following his long and illustrious career in local government.

Born in Sheffield, Sir Alan was very proud of his home city. He was a pupil at King Edward VII School, before joining the University and later graduating at the head of his class. In joining the University Sir Alan was following in the footsteps of his mother, Kate Kevan, who was a student at the Sheffield Day Training College from 1897-99, a part of University College, Sheffield, the precursor of the University.

Having qualified as a solicitor, he was appointed to Sheffield City Council as a prosecutor on behalf of the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions. His early career was rudely interrupted by the outbreak of World War II.

In France with his regiment at the beginning of the war, Alan was ordered to get back to England after the French army collapsed under the Blitzkrieg. He and his men made their way across country to Cherbourg - to find only one ship remaining in the harbour. It remained there only because the captain was dead drunk. Alan arrested the captain and steered the ship across the Channel to safety.

After the years of stalemate, 1943 saw Alan campaigning in Algeria and Tunisia - and then at Salerno in Italy during the Allied invasion in the face of bitter opposition from Kesselring's 16th Panzer Division. Next year saw him at the equally bloody Anzio landings - and he was awarded the military MBE for his part in planning these landings. He was twice mentioned in dispatches.

Ending the war as a lieutenant-colonel on the staff of Field Marshal Alexander, Alan was in Milan when it was reported to him that hanging upside down outside a petrol station were the bodies of Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci. He gave orders that the bodies be cut down.

After the war Sir Alan returned to Sheffield to resume his post, but shortly after moved on to other municipal appointments, including periods as Town Clerk (now known as Chief Executives) in Bolton, Leicester, Wolverhampton and Westminster.

As Chief Executive of Westminster one of his key tasks was the reform of local government in the capital. Sir Alan led a small group of officials who (in the face of stern resistance) fought for the complete reorganisation, overturning a complex mix of structures which had been in place since the 19th century.

The result was the Greater London Council, together with the 32 London Boroughs, which still exist today along with the City of London district. For his distinguished service to local government he was appointed CBE in 1968 and received a knighthood in 1974.

Following his time in Westminster, Sir Alan was appointed as Chairman of Sperry Rand Ltd, the British (and largest) subsidiary of the US-based Sperry Rand Corporation, which prospered during his nine years in the position. He stepped down in 1986, having also joined the CBI and served on its Executive Council, when the company was taken over and renamed Unisys.

Throughout his time living in London, Sir Alan paid close attention to its development and sat on several councils which assessed rent levels, architectural heritage and air cleanliness.

Having been warned by his mother not to rush into matrimony, he married for the first time at the age of 81, to Sally Chalklin.

Sir Alan retained close ties to the University throughout his life and career, supporting through philanthropy, as well as attending numerous events and reunions, and also playing an active part in the celebrations to commemorate the University's centenary in 2005.

The University's Director of Advancement, Miles Stevenson who had known Sir Alan for many years commented following his death that:

I first met Alan in 2005 at a University Centenary event at Gray's Inn London. Despite being 90, he was ram-rod straight and full of energy and a joy for life. I was not at all surprised to discover that he had been an officer in The Royal Artillery during the war. Indeed his family had long links to the military: his great grandfather had fought at the Battle of Waterloo and had gone on to guard Napoleon on St Helena.

“Sir Alan was so proud of his University. When he was a student there were only 9 other law students in his 1937 graduating class - and he watched with pleasure how the University grew in size and reputation over the next 80 years. Alan epitomised the very best English qualities - courtesy, kindness, good humour, intellectual curiosity and public service. He will be greatly missed and all of us at the alumni office send our condolences to his widow, Lady Dawtry.”

Miles Stevenson

Director of Advancement, The University of Sheffield