My wife Sally and I have known Robin and Jean for over 49 years since we joined the young Coats team in Lima, Peru in 1968.
From then till 1974 was an extraordinary time in the history of Peru and of the Coats company – and Robin as sales manager played a crucial role.
His unusual personal history was a relevant preparation for his international career. Born in Uruguay, brought up initially in Cuba and then Colombia followed by Mexico and then Argentina. He started school in Uruguay, while waiting for immigration papers to Brazil.
After a home leave in UK, the first time in Scotland, he returned to an American Catholic school in Brazil, while elder brother Murray went to Argentina. The Catholic nuns created problems and he was sent Argentina but after a year in a girls school he joined Murray in Scotland at Gordonstoun.
This he enjoyed hugely, truth be told in sport rather than the academic side of life, and he developed a taste for acting and serious reading as well as mountaineering. Above all he excelled at sport of all kinds. Being a child at boarding school far from family meant that he had to find something to do and somewhere to stay during school holidays. Here he showed great ingenuity and had many strange and wonderful experiences which reinforced his love of travel and adventure, and undoubtedly enhanced his social life.Starting his career with Coats in Glasgow he was fortunate to meet Jean, a friendship that matured into something rich and lasting with three lovely children. Jean was the true company wife who supported him all the way, despite enforced separation before marriage when Robin was a trainee in Italy, and no more so than in these last difficult years.In Peru I saw Robin embrace change, drive new products, deliver novel approaches to advertising, search for new ideas in Europe and the Americas, mentor young trainees and contribute to management discussions. Nothing phased him and the fact that Peru was one of the more innovative and successful companies in the Coats Group was largely down to Robin’s enthusiasm and determination to make things happen.In parallel with an extremely busy professional life Robin and Jean were central players on the Lima social scene. While Robin’s singing voice wasn’t exactly on a par with Jean’s, this didn’t stop him appearing in plays, pantomimes and reviews and indeed directing on occasion. Playing the pipes, play readings and exotic cooking evenings as well as trips into the desert or the jungle were always on the agenda.
And after a varied and successful sporting life at school and in Glasgow when courting Jean, he was a redoubtable opponent on the hockey, football and rugby field and also on the tennis court while you certainly wanted to be in his water polo team.
I was lucky enough to share another three years with Robin in Italy where he worked for ten years, the whole family coming to love the Italian way of life that he had already tasted as part of his training. Again his zest and sheer energy had a positive impact on a traditional and rather staid organisation.
It is no coincidence that he had a phone call out of the blue two days before he died from one of his then young Italian protégés, demonstrating his ability to form lasting friendships.
His four years in Chile with a dual brief to manage sales and marketing in Chile and to develop handkitting throughout Latin America represented an ideal role for Robin. Social life was good fun and most enjoyable there, but Brazil again called him.
Robin was truly at home in Latin countries. His fluency in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, perhaps somewhat mongrel-like and at times overwhelming his English, endowed him with great charm – and an ability to swear in many languages.
Sometimes his arguments were based more on enthusiasm and assertion, but his energy was difficult to resist and there are many ex-trainees who will recognise the significant impact of Robin’s guidance and tutelage over the years and colleagues who will remember his verve with a smile.
After his Coats career, curtailed by illness, he returned to Glasgow in 1990. Here he carved out a niche for himself in the whisky industry, introducing new thinking and branding into a fairly traditional company. This he did through his innovative and intuitive approach, often quite unorthodox, but again through weight of personality.
Robin was a people person par excellence. He enjoyed life to the full and had an unquenchable zest for life and friendship that enhanced everyone else’s – as well as his own.
He did not shrink from controversy, indeed he occasionally generated quite a lot where none existed, but he did this with passion and humour.
His sheer unqualified joie de vivre marked Robin out, a characteristic that I suspect had dominated his school and apprenticeship days and certainly continued throughout his career right up to the end.
I saw him on the Sunday just before he died. We talked of old times trying to remember the names of colleagues, friends and business associates when he said: “thank you for reminding me of some of the best years of my life”.
Once met, never forgotten.
Robin, you were a larger than life character and a real friend to all of us.
There are friends in three continents who will mourn your passing but who will have great memories of the time spent in your company. While we are glad that your suffering, nobly borne, is now at an end, we all salute you today and are grateful to have known you.