Article Published June 11th, 2019
Eulogy of Robert Emerson (1929 – 2019)
Federal Trust Council member 1994 – 2019
Robert was born in Lausanne, Switzerland on the 27th July 1929 to a Dublin native, Olive Thompson and a Uruguayan born Englishman Ambrose “Dick” Emerson. The youngest of 5 siblings, his immediate older sister died just a few short months before he was born.
Apart from a short period in Spain, when his father, who was a doctor, established an evangelical mission in the run up to the Civil War, Robert was home schooled in Lausanne until he was shipped off to Monkton Coombe preparatory school in the West of England at the age of 8, from where he progressed to Haileybury secondary school.
Whilst attending boarding school in the UK during the Second World War, when travel to Switzerland was impractical, he was warmly welcomed by Thompson cousins who had a large house with big gardens in Surrey. It was here that my father honed his formidable & lifelong croquet skills. The only activity in his life where he showed malicious glee at the misfortune of others, sending his opponent’s ball hurtling to the other end of the green whilst teeing his up nicely for the next hoop!
In 1947 he was conscripted into the army, an experience which left indelible memories, be they of a sadistic sergeant major obliging the officer cadets to re-peel the potato skins of potatoes they had poorly peeled for the battalion’s meal or a tongue tied cadet marching a platoon towards the edge of the parade ground and the precipice of the cliffs’ of Dover to which the Regimental Sergeant Major barked, “say something man, if only good bye!”. Robert eventually served as a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and saw action in Malaya fighting against the Communist Insurgents. Ever conscious of not glamorising conflict we heard little of his actions over there, apart from the ridding of leeches with the glow of a cigarette butt,
Conscription completed, Robert went up to Caius College in Cambridge University which proved a fitting environment for his hungry mind. Whilst reading Economics and Law he was also active in theatrical and opera groups and won his university colours rowing for his college.
On graduation in 1952 my father started his career as an Articled Clerk in London becoming a qualified Chartered Accountant in 1956. However, a lifetime of spreadsheets was clearly not for him as in the same year he started with the Economist Intelligence Unit. This chapter provided him with great opportunity to indulge his passion for travel and the discovery of different
cultures in all their hues. His travels took him to the Far East, North & West Africa and the Middle East. You may have spotted him in the photographs at the entrance of the church mounted on horseback in Petra.
It was during this period that Dad started to express his political interests and whilst being the certain underdog he stood as a Liberal Party candidate in the Folkestone and Hythe constituency in the 1959 general election. Despite the inevitable defeat he was proud of the fact that his team garnered enough votes to ensure the election entrance deposit was not lost!
Having been strongly influenced by his childhood memories of the War he was also a firm believer in the European project and remained very active in its support until the end of his life. I wonder sometimes was the timing of his departure a fit of pique on his behalf; demonstrating his disgust with the folly and ineptitude of the current British political establishment in relation to the matter.
During the 1950s and 60’s London became ingrained in my father, with its rich seam of arts, theatre and intellectual stimulation on which he thrived; in particular he participated in the founding of the New Opera Company and he joined the Cordwainers Company, a Livery of London working across multiple charitable sectors. In amongst all this he met a vivacious young Irish woman called Sally. He and my mother, who married in 1965 formed a strong & loving bond, remaining the closest of companions until her passing in 2014. Their union encompassed an eclectic circle of friends hailing from all walks of life and frequently with sharp enquiring minds. Many of these friends were to be found in far flung places and sadly too many no longer with us.
With the onset of marriage and greater responsibility the period of international galivanting had to come to a close and in 1967 Robert started a 9 year stint in various senior executive roles at Morgan Crucible plc. With those accumulated skills he then graduated to become a board director of Thomas Tilling plc which in 1983 had a staggering turnover of £2.3bn pounds and employed 42,000 people. Whilst high flying, the company was one of the first victims of the 1980s corporate raiders and as a result irrespective of his performance my father along with the rest of the senior executives were unceremoniously dumped out. With all the financial responsibilities involved with children and living costs this must have been a daunting time. However, dad retained his equanimity of spirit, his calm and patient demeanour and his undimmed sense of certainty.
And that certainty did not disappoint. He went on to set up a semi-state body, the Kent Economic Development Board, whose main objective was to re-invigorate the Kent economy by encouraging foreign direct investment. Aside from moving out of his beloved London this role gave him the opportunity to travel once more taking him to Japan, the USA and continental Europe. He concluded his professional career with various consultancy roles.
During retirement alongside his aforementioned passions he continued to participate in cultivating Nohoval Turrets which he and mum had acquired in the 1960s. If he wasn’t replacing trees that had succumbed to the winter storms he would be tending his bees or enjoying the soft fruits that the garden gave up so plentifully.
Through all of his years Dad viewed the world through a number of optics.
An almost photographic memory and the keenness to study all printed matter that passed before him gave him the ability to engage in meaningful conversation with almost all those he met. Heaven help you if he wasn’t on your team in a game of Trivial Pursuit!
Family was essential to him. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of distant relations, able to signpost a prospective cousin should one be travelling to a far-flung destination and with whom he steadfastly stayed in contact at the very least with a lengthy communication each Christmas.
Such communication left a substantial paper trail and paper was something my father accumulated; lots of it. Indeed, if there was a surface that did not have paper on it in the house it was soon requisitioned for that purpose. Whether old copies of the FT, Economist, company reports and accounts or the nursery’s latest tree catalogue, my father surrounded himself with paper. I fear it may be catching.
In every sense of the word my father was a gentleman. Aside from being courteous, he rarely raised his voice and appeared to have an almost infinite level of patience, kindness and consideration. That is not to say he did not have a quick, incisive and sometimes slightly wicked sense of humour usually applied with much gentleness. With a less than brilliant academic career I was one of many who benefitted from this generosity of spirit.
Always quick with a smile he exuded charm. A useful instrument to encourage a colleague, obtain an objective or advance a particular point of view. Which
reminds me of when recently searching for him after his arrival at Cork airport I happened upon him sitting with an elegant young lady in the arrivals seating area. How kind, I thought, of this young woman to chaperone my octogenarian father. However, to the contrary it soon became clear that my father had met this lady on the flight and offered my driving services to her on arrival. En route to her final destination with Dad in the rear out of earshot, she turned to me and said, “Daniel, your father has such class”. A compliment which I must confess I accepted with a pang of envy.
Not that as a buccaneer traveller I should have been surprised. He succeeded in enticing mum, or old acquaintances to exotic locations of interest and was clearly not always the easiest companion as he disappeared off at a tangent to explore a new found point of intrigue. Indeed, shortly before he passed away he was planning his next trip to South America and prospectively even on to Australia.
Dad was an epicurean; delighting in all manner of cuisine. Most likely as a result of his Swiss upbringing, cheese was a forte of his and, for him, a family gathering around a table with a large pot of fondue savoyarde verged on the sublime. I am pleased to say that this passion for fermented curd has continued and his grandchildren (& children) are voracious cheese consumers. Alongside my mother, as an affable host my father would have given Mrs. Doyle a run for her money in offering the next glass of wine or sliver of second helpings; refusal often required the guest to have a will of steel. Dark chocolate came a close second to cheese!
It is difficult for me to encapsulate all the things my father meant to me but if I were to distil them down I would say love, joy and humour.
Always the bedrock of my father’s life, the means by which he interpreted and inter-acted with all else, was his religious faith. Whilst not of the evangelical variety, his Christian faith informed his life every step of the way. It was his alpha and omega. His profound belief gave him infinite certitude in the future and calm in an ever-moving, turbulent world. He had a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of life, of community and the world.
It came as no surprise to me then, when my sister told me that upon hearing the words you too are about to hear, he moved on to better things.