Sir Timothy Kitson, who has died at 88, was Conservative MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire for nearly 25 years, from 1959 to 1983. Elected at 28, he was the second youngest MP in the Commons, in one of Britain’s safest seats.
He was also Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, from 1970 to 1974 – an appointment that was met with some surprise, since in the leadership election of 1965 he had supported Heath’s rival, Reginald Maudling.
When Heath was ejected from Downing Street in 1974 it was Sir Timothy who moved out of his flat to accommodate his boss – a loyalty that was rewarded with a knighthood in Heath’s resignation honours list. Indeed, it was Sir Timothy who had handed Heath the slip of paper on which was written the result of the first ballot in the leadership election he lost to Margaret Thatcher.
“So it has all gone wrong,” Heath said.
“He saw what a profound shift in the Conservative Party his defeat would entail – from his point of view, a shift in the wrong direction,” recalled his private secretary, william Waldegrave.
Timothy Peter Geoffrey Kitson was born at Linton, near Wetherby, the son of Geoffrey and Kathleen Kitson. He attended Charterhouse before going on to the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester – after which he farmed in Australia, according to his entry in Who’s Who.
He served as a member of the old Thirsk Rural District Council for three years from 1954, and the North Riding County Council until 1961.
At Westminster, he was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture from 1960 to 1964 and an opposition whip throughout the 1960s. He became chairman of the Defence Select Committee during the Falklands Conflict of 1982.
Following his retirement as an MP – his successors in Richmond included Leon Brittan and William Hague – he pursued a business career, sitting on a number of boards including those of the Halifax Building Society, the Leeds Building Society, Alfred McAlpine and London Clubs International.
However, he retained an interest in the House. In 1998 he was one of the Tory grandees to torpedo Jeffrey Archer’s campaign to become Mayor of London, and four years ago he defended his old boss when Sir Edward Heath’s name was linked with now discredited claims of sex abuse. Heath had “never looked at a man or woman”, he said.
Three years ago, he recalled in a biography of the standoffish former PM that he had once begged him to buy one of his backbenchers a beer. A few days later, he acquiesced, but Sir Timothy was aghast when he caught his boss’s line of conversation.
“That was a bloody awful speech you gave today,” Heath told his underling.
Always a prominent figure in the farming community, Sir Timothy established one of Britain’s leading herds of the then uncommon Red Poll cattle. His expertise in the breed lead to his appointment as a national and international judge, travelling as far afield as Bogota, Colombia, in 1960.
He said he had derived most satisfaction from his campaigns to raise army pay to what he called realistic levels, from his successful campaign to keep Northallerton railway station open in the 1980s, and from the introduction of a nationwide brucellosis testing scheme for cows.
He also had a lifelong passion for horse racing and a deep love of country pursuits.
He married Diana Mary Fattorini (Sally) in 1959 and had two daughters and a son, five grandchildren and one great-grandson.