Scotland’s Lord Balerno
by Kenneth E. Baughman
Kenneth E. Baughman and Lord Balerno on the farm of Jock Buchannan-Smith at Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 1973
Lord Balerno of the House of Cockburn. (1898-1984) That’s his official name as decreed by the Queen of England in 1963. To his many and devoted friends in America he is known simply as Alick. And to most of his 1924 Iowa State University classmates, as well as to his old ISU Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brothers, he is known affectionately as Scotty.
However he is addressed, one of England’s most respected and influential Lords is an Iowa Stater and a most interesting one at that. He is the only ISU alumnus ever to be knighted and the only ISU alumnus ever to serve in the distinguished House of Lords.
He has extensive dairy and swine operations on his holdings near Edinburgh and in the realm of agriculture he has few peers. He works closely with the school of Agriculture in Edinburgh, in its demonstration and experimental programs, and his farm has often served as an important stop on European study tours conducted by ISU.
He served in both world wars, was for years vice-chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland – the second highest party position in his country – and is a key layman in the Church of Scotland.
He has received numerous awards and recognitions (including the ISU Alumni Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award) and he has frequently been called on to assist with royal functions. He sometimes dines with the royal family, during the Queen’s periodic visits to Scotland, and he has on occasion escorted the Queen Mother at major state functions.
In addition, Lord Balerno has long been a loyal alumnus of Iowa State, supporting and assisting the University faithfully in a variety of ways through the years.
Born Alick Drummond Smith, he is the son of an eminent Presbyterian theologian at Glasgow University in Scotland. As a boy, Alick spent his summer months with his father on a farm south of Glasgow. His interest in agriculture, which he later pursued in college studies, grew there.
Before college, however, Alick was called into the service to fight in World War I with the renowned Gordon Highlanders. There, because he was the son of a peer, he immediately became a second lieutenant commanding a platoon of 40 men in the front lines. It was 1918 and was barely 18 years of age.
Following World War I, he completed his undergraduate studies in agriculture at Aberdeen University. In 1923, he decided to pursue postgraduate work in agriculture in the United States.
Alick accompanied his father on a trip to Johns Hopkins University later that year and it was there that he applied for admission to an American Land-Grant university. He was eventually accepted at Iowa State College and was given a fellowship of $60.00 per month. His first task was to fetch an atlas and find out where Ames, Iowa, was.
When Scotty arrived in Ames, he was placed in the home of a German woman who lived near the campus and whose house continually smelled of sauerkraut. That was not Scotty’s cup of tea. He wrote to his father telling him of his plight and his father, in turn, contacted U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft and asked what could be done.
Taft, former U.S. President and longstanding friend of Scotty’s father, wrote Iowa State President, Raymond A. Pearson and informed him of Scotty’s lodging problem. President Pearson then suggested to the men at Alpha Gamma Rho that they should take a look at Scotty as a potential brother.
Scotty pledged Alpha Gamma Rho and lived with a group of young men, several of whom became outstanding leaders. They included Roland C. Ferguson, ’26 who became president of Meredith Publishing Co., and F.E. (Gus) Mullen, ’22, who became vice president of the National Broadcasting Company. (Both are now retired, Ferguson in Highland Park, IL, and Mullen in Los Angeles, CA)
At Iowa State, Scotty majored in animal breeding and genetics, studying under Prof. Phineas S. Shearer and Prof. E. W. Lindstrom, an early pioneer in pure genetics and hybrid seed corn and a cohort of Henry A. Wallace, founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., and later Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Scotty has used what he learned at Iowa State as an agriculturist, a teacher and researcher in animal breeding at Edinburgh University and as a British government official.
Following his career at Iowa State, Alick returned to Scotland and married Mary Kathleen Smith, a woman who already has his last name. So, he took the name of his mother and henceforth was known as Alick D. Buchanan-Smith, a name borne by all five of his children, including Dr. Jock Buchanan-Smith, ’63 of Ontario, Canada, and Alick D. Buchanan-Smith, the overseer of the family farm in Scotland and Conservative member of the British House of Commons.
Scotty bought his first farm near Edinburgh in 1928. The farm was then only 400 acres, but it has since been expanded to 1,700 acres and is regarded today as a model farm and one of Scotland’s best. It is located on the slopes of the Pentland Hills and has been farmed in the lowlands for 1,000 years. The highlands were not farmed until the planting of shelter belts (barriers of trees and shrubs designed to minimize soil erosion on sloping ground) in the 18th century and the farm exhibits one of the earliest examples of shelter belts planting done to reclaim land from the wild. Scotty has a herd of 700 Aryshire milk cows and the milk produced on the farms is sold in the Edinburgh area under the name of Cockburn Farm.
Cockburn, pronounced “Co-burn,” most likely took its name from the old Scottish word pronounced “coo,” meaning cow. For as long as anyone knows, cows have been raised on this farm. It was just 60 miles away, on the west coast of Scotland, that the Hereford Breed originated. The house on the farm, built in the 17th century and known as the House of Cockburn, was purchased by Scotty in 1938.
When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Scotty was called back into the service as a member of the Territorials, a group akin to the National Guard in the U.S. He took his battalion of Gordon’s Highlanders to France again to fight the Germans, this time along the Maginot Line.
Most of his division was captured by the Germans in 1940, but Scotty was evacuated because of illness prior to the fall of Dunkirk. He was later sent to Scapa Flow, the deep harbor in the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland which was the British Fleet station. His duty there was to protect the fleet from an amphibious or air invasion by the Germans in 1940 during the famous air battle of Britain.
During the remainder of World War II Scotty was placed in command of all personnel selection activities for the entire British Army in London and it was there that he, along with other Londoners, endured the German V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks.
Scotty was discharged on V-J Day (1945) as a Brigadier General. As a result of his wartime activities, he was made a Commander of the British Empire by King George. He was also knighted in 1956 and became a Knight Bachelor, the oldest British Order of Chivalry. Henceforth, Scotty was known as Sir Alick D. Buchanan-Smith. This knighthood was granted by the then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth.
After Scotty’s return home, in 1945, he became involved in politics “by backing into it.” He was hardly out of the army when his local minister telephoned him and informed him that he had been nominated to be the representative to the local government. From then on, Scotty became more involved. Soon he was running the local constituency of the Conservative Party in Midlothian County. He became the leader of the Conservative Party of Scotland in 1953 and held that position for a decade. He also served as a member of the board of administration for Midlothian County for 16 years. During his tenure he occasionally visited with Conservative prime ministers. He met with Churchill and Eden. He was the boyhood friend of Lord Hume and a longtime friend of Harold MacMillen. Prime Minister Heath has stayed at Scotty’s house when visiting Scotland.
In 1963 Scotty was given a lordship by the Queen and then-Prime Minister MacMillen. The criteria for selection include accomplishment in government, academics or science. There are 1,000 lords but only 400 of them participate in the House of the Lords by petition. The House of the Lords serves in an advisory role to Parliament and Scotty, a recognized authority on agriculture, flies to London weekly when the House is in session.
His official title, Lord Balerno of the House of Cockburn, was taken from the nearby Midlothian town of Balerno and was approved by the Lord Lion King of Arms, the head of the College of Arms in Scotland.
When one discusses these matters with Scotty, it is readily apparent why the AGR’s at Iowa State were so attracted to him in 1923. He is a completely charming Scottish gentleman consonant with good Iowa hospitality. It is a royal honor to count him as an alumnus of Iowa State.
 As appeared in The Iowa Stater, October, 1976