The noble director in a white Cadillac

IF nothing else she surprises. Whether she is bursting into tears over passport rights, suddenly turning up married after an Easter long-weekend, or saying farewell to the territory, Lady Dunn has cut a swathe through Hong Kong social and political life.

Nobody can have failed to notice her white Cadillac as it sweeps out of the Legislative Council car park to her 6,000-square-foot penthouse at the Albany in Mid-Levels. The building, overlooking the Botanical Gardens, is owned by Swire Properties.

Lady Dunn started her career as an 18-year-old in the shipping offices of Swire, which she described as 'being much more interesting than working as fashion buyer'.

Her move up the corporate and political ladder was meteoric.

With 21 directorships, she has 25 per cent of all female directorships in the top 10 listed companies in Hong Kong. The list of her companies' subsidiaries runs to more than 1,500.

She was born in Hong Kong on February 29, 1940, and educated at St Paul's Convent School, then went on to study at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her father, Dunn Yeh Yen-chuen, was a wealthy businessman with interests in Shanghai. The name Dunn is an Anglicisation of Deng. Her mother ruled the family after his death in the manner, friends and her two sisters, Mamie and Gloria, lovingly described, of an empress dowager. Mamie died of cancer in 1986.

But it was on April 2, 1988, that Lady Dunn surprised even her closest friends with her sudden marriage to Michael Thomas QC.

The 48-year-old bride was described as looking 'slightly nervous'.

She drew the biggest spotlight in the political arena. She was a legislative councillor from 1976-1988, and its senior member from 1985-88.

But no one would dispute everything she does is with style. She can be seen gliding into the Joyce Cafe, owned by her pal Joyce Ma. Her clothes are Italian. Her manners are English and her heart is 'in Hong Kong'.

Her opponents respected her, and perhaps even feared her political skill. In 1992 she suggested all Executive Council members hand in their resignations to the new Governor Chris Patten. He did not accept hers.

She is a non-executive deputy chairman of HSBC Holdings Plc and the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and a non-executive director of Cathay Pacific Airways.

She was made a Justice of the Peace in 1976, an OBE in 1978, a CBE in 1983 and a DBE in 1989.

She was chairman of the Trade Development Council from 1983-1991.

Lady Dunn was made a life peer in the 1990 Queen's Birthday Honours List.