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Lord Home; Aristocrat Served as Britain's Prime Minister

October 10, 1995| From Times Staff and Wire Reports

LONDON — Lord Home, a Scottish aristocrat who served briefly as prime minister of Great Britain during a political career that spanned the period from the rise of Nazism to the end of the Cold War, died Monday. He was 92.

Home, who as Sir Alec Douglas-Home was prime minister for a year beginning in October, 1963, was the last of the bluebloods to lead Britain's Conservative Party.

Emerging as leader after secretive consultations among Conservative elders, Home changed the rules to allow legislators to pick the leader--opening the way for his successors, Edward Heath, a carpenter's son, and Margaret Thatcher, a grocer's daughter.

"He represented all that was best in his generation," Thatcher said Monday. "A perfect gentleman who used his great talents in the service of his country and her people."

Prime Minister John Major, now struggling to revive the Conservatives' flagging fortunes, said, "He was understated and often underestimated."

Home (pronounced Hume ) died surrounded by his family at one of his two Scottish estates, Coldstreams in Berwickshire, near the border with England.

As prime minister, he was a compromise choice by his predecessor, Harold Macmillan, for a party shaken by a sex scandal.

At the time, the socialist opposition Labor Party described the choice of the 14th Earl of Home as an "elegant anachronism."

"After half a century of democratic advance, of social revolution, the whole process has ground to a halt with a 14th earl," jibed Harold Wilson, who as Labor leader ousted Home in October, 1964, elections.

Because the prime minister must sit in the elected House of Commons, Home gave up his string of hereditary titles in 1963. He was later given a life peerage as Lord Home of Hirsel and was active in the House of Lords until late in his life.

A tall, thin man with twinkling blue eyes and a gaunt, thin-lipped face, Home always appeared detached from the rough stuff of politics--a patrician attitude that came from belonging to a family secure in ancient privileges and vast inherited estates.

Home, who said becoming prime minister was an "enormous shock," was best known as foreign secretary and as Commonwealth secretary, jobs he held for a total of 13 years from 1955 to 1974.

The Times once described Home during his foreign secretary tenure as "correct, never flamboyant, sometimes inscrutable and frequently the teacher" with "an unashamed directness which his audience may not enjoy hearing but can hardly fail to respect."

Home presided over the end of the British Empire and shepherded many colonies to independence.

He was born on July 2, 1903, heir to an earldom conferred by King James I in 1603. His other titles included Baron of Dunglass, which dates to the 14th Century.

After education at Eton and Oxford, Home was elected to Parliament in 1931 for the Scottish district of Lanarkshire.

During World War II, Home was discharged from the army suffering from spinal tuberculosis and spent two years bedridden.

His wife, the former Elizabeth Alington, died in 1990. He is survived by a son, David, who inherits the family titles and becomes the 15th Earl of Home, and three daughters.

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