Lord Hastings (1912-2007)

Published: August 03 2007
Last updated: October 04 2022

Edward Delaval Henry Astley, born 14 April 1912; Vice-President of British Epilepsy Association 1962-64; President of British Epilepsy Association 1965-93; Honorary Past President of British Epilepsy Association 1993-2007; died 25 April 2007.

It was with great sadness that Epilepsy Action learned of the death on 25 April of Lord Hastings. The following tribute is to a man who was a great champion for people with epilepsy and their families and who was an enormous influence in the development of British Epilepsy Association from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Edward Delaval Henry Astley, the 22nd Baron Hastings, was a man of many diverse interests. Aside from epilepsy, he had particular passions for dance, Italy and politics. He was a member of the House of Lords between 1956 and 1999; Governor of the British Institute of Florence, 1959-1997; a Government Whip, 1960-1961; Lord in Waiting to Her Majesty The Queen; Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, 1962-1964; Chairman of the Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund, 1966-83; President of the British Italian Society, 1967-1995; Governor of the Royal Ballet, 1979-92 and Chairman of the Dance Teachers Benevolent Fund, 1982-99.

Before the Second World War, Lord Hastings tried a career in the City with the Gold Coast Selection Trust and travelled widely in the United States. During the war he served with the Coldstream Guards and the Intelligence Corps in North Africa and Italy. After the war, he again entered the City but soon left to take a 5,000 acre tobacco farm in Southern Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe). He returned to the United Kingdom in 1956 when he inherited his title and took his seat in the House of Lords. Within four years he was appointed as a Conservative Government Whip. He remained active in politics in the House of Lords right up until he lost his seat in 1999 as part of the Lords’ reform.

Lord Hastings was first introduced to the British Epilepsy Association (BEA) in 1960 when a local branch of the Association in Newcastle asked him to become its president. Soon after, in 1962, he was appointed as Honorary Vice-President of BEA. In 1964 the members of BEA appointed Lord Hastings as Acting President of the Association and the following year, 1965, he was confirmed as President. He held this position for the next twenty eight years, retiring in 1993, and accepting the title of Honorary Past President which he held until his death. Lord Hastings was never one to simply lend his name to the Association. He always took an active role in the life and work of the organisation.

On several memorable occasions he spoke in the House of Lords about issues affecting the lives of people with epilepsy. In April 1965 he opened a debate calling for a fresh look at the proposals of Lord Cohen’s Committee on the ‘Medical Care of Epileptics’. Later that same year he was asking questions in the Lords about the treatment of prisoners in jail with epilepsy. Even during the 1990’s he continued to table questions on epilepsy in the House of Lords and he was an early active supporter of the All Party group on Epilepsy.

Lord Hastings fronted and led countless national appeals, campaigns and major events for BEA but he always had a special interest in epilepsy research. He served on BEA’s various research committees over the years and served as a trustee of BEA’s research Trust, the British Epilepsy Research Foundation. He ultimately served as Chairman of the independent Epilepsy Research Foundation.

As President of BEA, Lord Hastings chaired numerous Annual General Meetings of the Association. He served on BEA’s Executive Committee from 1965 until the Committee was disbanded in May 1990. Similarly, he served on the Council of Management from 1965 until his retirement as President in June 1993. He was consequently right at the very heart of BEA across four different decades. During these years, BEA had its share of difficulties. But Lord Hastings’ leadership and guidance as President during such times was invaluable. His generosity, his warm spirit, his good humour, his deep commitment, and his never ending ability to care, kept problems in perspective and ensured the Association made progress in improving the lives of people with epilepsy and their families.

Lord Hastings was held in the highest regard and was widely respected by all those who knew him within BEA. Possessed of a calm authority, when he had something to say, people listened. Consequently he was often deployed to help resolve the most difficult of problems. For example, even though he had just retired as President, he chaired a litigation committee set up by the Council of Management in July 1993 to advise on potential legal action regarding the loss of some of the Association’s investments discovered in October 1992.

What was less well known about Lord Hastings was his interest and his practical involvement in BEA’s activities at an everyday level. Although it was never expected of him, Lord Hastings spent a great deal of his time selflessly visiting local branches and groups, attending meetings of volunteers and paying visits to the holidays BEA used to run for people with epilepsy. He was always perceptively aware of the problems facing people with epilepsy and their families and his support for epilepsy extended beyond his involvement with British Epilepsy Association. Not only did he serve as Chairman of the Epilepsy Research Foundation, he was also the President of the Joint Epilepsy Council.

In June 1990, to commemorate its 40th anniversary, BEA introduced its most prestigious and highest award to recognise people who had made an outstanding contribution to improving the lives of people with epilepsy. The Award was named after Lord Hastings and it was most appropriate that he should be the first ever recipient, recognising his immense efforts on behalf of BEA. Ironically, his last public engagement for the Association was in June 2004 when at the age of 92 he presented the Lord Hastings Award to Dr Tim Betts at the Association’s national conference and AGM in Leeds.

Philip Lee, Chief Executive of Epilepsy Action, recalls:

“I was the Development Director of BEA when Lord Hastings retired as President. I remember that all the Association’s staff were called together and he gave each one of us a personal gift of a book token. He also gave one to every member of Council. He was like that – thoughtful, interested and encouraging.

“With the passing of Lord Hastings we have lost one of the few remaining links back to the earliest days of the Association. Whilst saddened by his loss, we can be grateful that he chose to share his many talents with us and help us to develop BEA into the thriving and successful organisation that it is today. Lord Hastings has a special place in the history of British Epilepsy Association.”

Richard Chapman, honorary treasurer of Epilepsy Action and a former chairman of council, added:

“I joined the Council of Management in 1986 when Lord Hastings, as President, used to chair the Council. I found him to be approachable, charming and genuinely interested in all of the Association’s work and in the views of our members and keen to do whatever he could to help. He was a great listener with a keen mind and a capacity to get to the vital questions in any issue under debate. He was very active on our behalf at an age when most people have decided to wind down and take it easy. I think he contributed a great deal to the development of the Association and to understanding of epilepsy at a time when it was not a popular cause to champion.”