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Shipping boss who fled fascists as a child and settled in Abernethy dies aged 88

Terry and Dick Thorman.
Terry and Dick Thorman.

Europe’s descent into war was becoming inevitable when Dick Thorman was brought to the UK for safety in 1936.

The retired shipping executive, who has died aged 88, was born in Mussolini’s Italy in 1933 to an English father who worked in the coal trade and an Italian mother.

By the time he was three, Rome had become darkened by blackshirt oppression. Italian relatives urged them to get out so the family relocated to Yorkshire.

Mr Thorman was put to preparatory school in the county before going to boarding school at Sedbergh.

Overseas service

He left school at 18 and did National Service in the Royal Tank Corps where he was commissioned as a captain and was stationed by the Suez Canal.

This was a few years before the Suez Crisis and a time when Britain had 70,000 troops based in Egypt.

After National Service, Mr Thorman turned down a scholarship to study French at Oxford because he wanted to do something interesting, his wife said.

At the age of 20, in 1954, he joined the Ben Line of Edinburgh, a shipping firm, as a trainee. After 18 months he was posted to Singapore.

It was while he was on home leave in 1957 that he met Terry, who was to become his wife of 62 years.

Pub crawl by car

Mrs Thorman had been asked by her sister to join a pub crawl through the Yorkshire Dales by car.

“You can’t imagine that happening nowadays,” said Mrs Thorman. “But that was how to was then. Dick turned up in his MGA sports car and we got talking.

“That was in the October. We went out a few times and on November 5, after a rugby club event, he asked me to marry him. I waited for a few days before I said yes.”

Mr Thorman took up his next posting in Hong Kong and Terry, who taught educational dance, followed him 15 months later. The couple were married in St John’s Cathedral in the colony. They spent their honeymoon in Japan.

Starting a family

In 1962, the couple moved to Singapore and Mr Thorman became Ben Line’s general manager for the Far East. Their first child, Christopher, was born in Hong Kong and William and Libby were born in Singapore.

During this period, Mr Thorman oversaw the transition from cargo liners to containerships.

One of Ben Line’s giant new ships built at Kiel in Germany was Benalder and Mrs Thorman was asked to preside at the naming ceremony.

In 1972, Mr Thorman was appointed to Ben Line’s board in Edinburgh, tasked with finding avenues for expansion, and the family set up home in Kinross.

It was then Mr Thorman led the firm into offshore drilling through its subsidiary, Atlantic Drilling. It carried out work throughout the world from Alaska to New Zealand  as well as in the North Sea. Mr Thorman remained chairman of that firm until his retiral in 1993.


Mr Thorman had learnt to play the piano at school but went on to teach himself the organ and became one of two regular organists at St Paul’s Scottish Episcopal Church, Kinross.

The family moved to Abernethy in 1980 where Mr and Mrs Thorman became involved in community life. In retirement, Mr Thorman even built his own light aircraft which he flew from Scone.

“He had learnt to fly in Singapore and had a private rather than commercial licence so he could not take me up in the aircraft,” said Mrs Thorman. “However, he had asked a member of the Red Arrows to check over the aircraft before its first flight and he took me up in it.”

The family’s announcement can be read here.

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