Tributes have been paid to Sir Robert Taylor – the former Lord-Lieutenant of the West Midlands and the man who masterminded the transformation of Birmingham International Airport in the 1980s – who has died after a long illness.
Former colleagues at BIA said they were saddened by the loss of Sir Robert, who was head of the airport during its transitional years, and died peacefully on Saturday.
The one-time RAF fighter pilot, known by his many friends in the business and airline worlds simply as Bob Taylor, was a larger than life figure who received the accolade of Midlander of the Year.
He overcame the injuries he received in a car crash, which left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, to lead the airport into a new era. In the process he became one of the most effective ambassadors the West Midlands region has seen, one who continued to work tirelessly behind the scenes even after his retirement.
Joe Kelly, Birmingham International Airport’s current acting managing director, said: “Bob’s effervescent character and larger than life personality made him a popular and respected businessman, colleague and regional figure.
“He was able to engage with people at all levels and achieve the best of his workforce by making time to go out onto the floor and familiarise himself with the workforce.
“Bob was instrumental in leading the airport to the position we see today and he will be missed by all of those who had the pleasure of knowing, working and learning from him.”
Sir Robert joined the airport in 1974 as assistant director, at a time when just one million people used the Elmdon site. He became airport director in 1976 and led the seamless transfer of the new terminal from Elmdon in 1984 to today’s rapidly expanding site, which will prove crucial to Birmingham’s position in global markets.
Two years later, in 1987, he gained the title of managing director when the ‘Airport Company’ was formed, from the wholly owned local authority arrangement, and in 1991 he oversaw the opening of the Eurohub, the world’s first terminal to combine domestic and international passengers.
By the time Sir Robert retired from the airport company in 1994, more than five million passengers were using the facility, placing it well and truly on the world airport map.
Following Sir Robert’s retirement, Brian Summers took over the mantle of managing director.
Having worked closely with Sir Robert for more than 20 years, in the former West Midlands County Council and at the airport, Mr Summers said: “Bob was a personal inspiration to me and I know to many other people. He was admired throughout the aviation industry and with business friends across the world. His contribution in putting BIA onto a serious footing when its whole future was uncertain in the 1970s can not be overstated.”
On retiring from the airport, Sir Robert told the workforce that managing the company had been something of a crusade for him as he had been at the airport’s opening ceremony in 1939 with his father. He said it had given him enormous pleasure and fulfilment along the way and Birmingham Airport had an excellent future ahead with the superb team of people who had supported him along the way.
BIA’s chairman, John Hudson, added: “Such fondness and respect is expressed by those who worked with Bob for his tremendous contribution in developing the Midlands premier airport that we see today. Bob was one of the guiding spirits that set the airport on its way and we are very sorry by the sad news of his death.”
John Lamb, spokesman for Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also said: “The whole business community in Birmingham and Solihull is greatly saddened to learn of the death of Bob Taylor.
“We will look back with great affection for Bob, not only as the man who put Birmingham Airport on the map at a time when its future might have been in doubt but as a great friend of the worldwide business community. His support and wise counsel will be greatly missed.”
Sir Robert held the role of Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of West Midlands from November 1993 until 2006, when he retired early due to health problems. He would have been 76 next Saturday and he and his wife, Sheila, had been married for 50 years. She has requested a private family funeral.