Swire Group

Lydia moves out as time moves on

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 1995, 12:00am

IT was clearly not the way the Baroness wanted to say goodbye. 'I hope you will all stay and have a cup of tea,' she pleaded, as the press pack crowded her in traditional Hong Kong fashion.

A few years ago, Lady Dunn would have summoned a few hacks for a civilised English-style chat, over tea and biscuits, to break the news that she was stepping down as Senior Executive Councillor in August, and leaving Hong Kong in January, to become an executive director of the Swire Group in London.

But Hong Kong has moved on since then. Yesterday there were more than 100 journalists packed into the Swire House Penthouse. And, despite her preference for speaking in English, most wanted their soundbites in Cantonese.

Lady Dunn, it seems, prefers to quit the territory rather than adapt to a new Hong Kong so different from the one where she was for so long the 'most powerful woman' . . . until Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang stole her mantle 19 months ago.

In 1992, the Baroness was virtually the sole survivor of Governor Chris Patten's purge of Exco. This time she has chosen to jump before, as some believe, being pushed in September's reshuffle.

The official reason for her departure is that Hong Kong's one-time 'Iron Lady' has been reborn as the traditional Chinese housewife, obediently following her husband back to his homeland.

Former attorney-general Michael Thomas was even summoned to the rostrum to provide the proof - with Lady Dunn, herself 55, pointing out that he is 62 in September.

That was why past pledges to stay in Hong Kong were now being swept aside.

Perhaps, too, it was because her own post had become virtually redundant in the changing face of Hong Kong politics. Mr Patten is unlikely to appoint a replacement as senior Exco member, and Lady Dunn admitted that maybe there was no longer a need to do so.

'This is the hardest decision I've ever made in my life,' she said.

But there were no tears. Instead it was time for another broad smile, followed by a prolonged photocall, while Swire Pacific chairman Peter Sutch hovered in the background, wondering how to rescue her from the press pack.

The Baroness, it appeared, was intent on going out in style - even if not in a manner entirely of her choosing.