Cawthorne built a career in the industry, initially in pig farming then working for Harris Bacon before turning to lamb, pioneering quality Texel sheep-breeding and running abattoirs in North Devon. Under his management, North Devon Meat company became a byword for quality and, after it was sold to Hillsdown Holdings in the 1980s, he became chief executive of its meat division, FMC.
When Hillsdown sold its meat interests, Cawthorne bought Invicta Lamb of Lamberhurst, Kent, which operated until the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak. Latterly he sold lamb abroad through a number of companies, maintaining close ties with the French processor and importer SVA. He was active in a number of national and international trade associations.
Remi Fourrier, Eblex export manager France, said Cawthorne was an exporter of top-quality lamb. “French importers will remember the exceptional quality of his lambs. He had the best and importers were fighting for what he had. He was always looking for quality.
“On a personal level he had a great sense of humour and he was very energetic. He had a great cellar of French wines, he enjoyed his food and he knew his food. As such he would always take customers to the best places and he paid great attention to every detail.
“I saw him only two months ago and he was as elegant as ever.”
Bert Smale, who worked with him for 40 years at North Devon Meat and Invicta Lamb, said Cawthorne had a great work ethic. “He was always a seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day man. He devoted his life to his work, but he enjoyed himself as well and had a lot of friends in the industry.”
Richard Cracknell, who knew Cawthorne well, said "Dick Cawthorne represented the British meat industry on many European committees in Brussels even though he was very challenging of the European set up. He went because he enjoyed the banter! He was renowned for the amusing reports of the meetings that he wrote when he came back."