The life and work of Sir Antony Fisher

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Sir Antony Fisher, founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

Antony Fisher was a very charming man with an incredible focus and determination which he applied first to training fighter pilots in the Royal Air Force to shoot better, second to factory farming of chickens, and third to building a worldwide network of free-market oriented independent think tanks. It was the early profits from the chicken factories that encouraged him, guided by Hayek’s advice (see The Intellectuals and Socialism), to incorporate the IEA, and hire the young Ralph Harris. Harris in turn hired the slightly older Arthur Seldon and for the next two decades Antony’s free-market efforts were limited to chairing the IEA Board and attending meetings such as those of the Mont Pelerin Society.

Three events changed his life and daily routine.

First, having sold off his chicken business for a fortune he proceeded to lose most of it in turtle farming and dairy farming in the Cayman Islands. The turtle farm was poised to be a real winner but the environmentalists persuaded politicians to ban its products.

Second, people around the world began to notice the IEA and admire the quiet, clever and highly leveraged strategy it was implementing by reaching the small band of key intellectuals. Ralph focused on discovering and nurturing talent such as Tony Jay (now Sir Antony Jay) who would, with Milton and Rose Friedman, make Free To Choose, and the classic public choice informed TV comedies Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. This led to folk knocking on the door of the IEA asking ‘how do you do this?’ and that in turn led the newly under-employed Fisher to embark on a final career as the Johnny Appleseed of the free-market movement, starting in Vancouver BC (The Fraser Institute), San Francisco (The Pacific Research Institute – PRI), New York (The Manhattan Institute), and back in London with the Adam Smith Institute, a downstream complement to the IEA. [I delight in seeing the Tony Jays of my tenure at the IEA advance so quickly and so far].

Soon the world was beating a path to Antony’s door and in 1981 he incorporated Atlas and really began to build the network from Europe to North America to South America and even Asia and Africa.

The third life-changing event was his meeting a beautiful widow named Dorian Crocker (née Dodge) at a regional meeting and later again at a general meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society.  That would have been Hillsdale in 1975 and St Andrews in 1976.

Dorian was perfect for the divorced Fisher. She had a fantastic apartment at 1750 Taylor Street, San Francisco, with Milton and Rose a few floors down. She was, through her own studies and her first husband George Crocker, very free-market in her views. She was beautiful and charming with a quick wit and a dry sense of humor. He courted her and on a cruise (‘separate cabins, of course’ she wrote) he proposed on one knee outside her door and she accepted. I think he even had a rose for her.

They formed a formidable partnership: his war record (Battle of Britain fighter pilot with III Squadron Hurricanes), business success, IEA board leadership for 20 years, seriousness, focus and dedication were superbly complemented by her vivacity, charm, beauty, wealth, fabulous apartment for entertaining donors, and dedication to his vision.

Between the autumn of 1987 and summer of 1988 as the new President and CEO of Atlas I flew from my base in Fairfax, VA to San Francisco, CA for one week in every six, staying at that apartment. I have vivid memories of coming back most nights about 6:30pm to find Antony with a soft drink and Dorian with a cocktail (Bombay gin martini straight up) sitting together as she read aloud to him snippets from the large array of newspapers, journals, and magazines she consumed every day. She was de facto his Chief of Intelligence in the war of ideas. She even edited a paper Atlas used for years on what worked well and what did not work for a free-market think tank.

Dorian outlived Antony by close to 20 years, passing away on 3 April 2007 after her third marriage to John Adams, a Canadian businessman. She left nearly all of her fortune to Atlas and the three think tanks she admired the most: the IEA, PRI, and in Dallas, TX the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

So while this week we toast Antony let us not overlook the key role played by Dorian.

This article was originally published by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. A biography of Sir Antony Fisher can be downloaded here.