When David Gledhill retired as taipan of the Swire Group in the spring of 1992, he made it plain he was not going to follow the familiar trail of many top businessmen and return to London. Hong Kong had been his home for much of his life, and he was determined to stay. And that he did, although the long illness which he suffered for more than a year finally claimed him last week, aged 65, in the Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London. Gledhill, CBE, had a long and distinguished 33-year career with Swire, 21 of those years in Hong Kong. He was chairman of the group in Hong Kong when he retired. The group usually sees its top people step down from the chairmanship at 55; he stayed another 30 months. He was educated at Cambridge University and served in the Royal Artillery. He joined the shipping department of Butterfield and Swire in 1958 when he came to Hong Kong. Shipping, which he saw as the most vital link in world trade and key to Hong Kong business progress, held a fascination for him. He worked in shipping throughout his career and it was while posted in Japan that he met his wife, Kyoko. The string of directorships he held before being named chairman concentrated on docks, containers, travel and shipping agencies, as well as Swire Properties. As chairman of Cathay Pacific, he was, logically, on the Provisional Airport Authority, but this role ended long before the opening fiasco. He looked at Hong Kong's growing links with the mainland as a realist. 'We are harnessed to China,' he said after Tiananmen. 'If they prosper, then we prosper.' His interests were wide. He was a council member of the University of Hong Kong; on the board of the Community Chest; chairman of the Employers' Federation; a committee member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Consultative Committee for the Basic Law. His many directorships included Hongkong Bank (now HSBC). He predicted a bright future for Hong Kong, but was sufficiently canny to warn - in 1992 - that there could be a property crash in Hong Kong after the change of rule. But he also warned that the market must be left to make its own adjustments. In retirement, he remained active. He kept a close eye on the shipping industry and wanted to see expansion of further container terminals. But after a lifetime in the discreet shadows of the business world, he also emerged as a spokesman for those in the business community who disagreed with then Governor Chris Patten. Gledhill, for instance, was involved in the process in Shenzhen under which the 60 members of the provisional legislative council were picked. Described as an enthusiastic backer of the mainland line, he said at the time, in December 1996, that Mr Patten's democratic reforms were 'entirely misguided and bad for Hong Kong'. Business and politics were not his only interests. He had a love of sports and was named head of the Sports Development Board after his retirement from business. The last time many close friends saw him was at the Hong Kong Sevens last spring. Cathay Pacific had sponsored the big rugby festival for most of its existence and Gledhill was a keen observer. He was frail but cheerful, wheelchair-bound after a stroke. Many with whom he worked took the opportunity of shaking his hand, suspecting it might be the last time they could do so. Peter Sutch, who succeeded Gledhill as Swire's top executive in Hong Kong, was a friend of the older man, as well as an admirer. Like many of a slightly younger generation, he looked upon Gledhill with affection and respect. 'David was to many a shy man, but he was a very warm man too and wonderful company when in a small group,' Mr Sutch remembers. 'What many also did not know was that he had a formidable intellect which he put to good use for Swire's and above all, for Hong Kong, which he loved and cared passionately about.'