The Man who saved the Institution

The policy of the Institution is to publish only the obituaries of past Presidents unless there are exceptional reasons for doing otherwise.

Robin Marques, former Chairman of CU Phosco Lighting and former Institution Honorary Treasurer, who died earlier this year, was an exceptional man who made an exceptional contribution to the organisation.

It is difficult for me even to attempt to pen this meagre tribute. Robin had just left the council of what was then the ILE when I arrived, most of his contemporaries have also passed on and those that remain have not been able to throw much light on a significant period of the Institution’s history. A few dusty afternoons in the ILP archives have also failed to produce much in the way of documentation. This tribute is therefore by nature anecdotal and may contain inaccuracies for which I can only apologise. However, I am confident that, in substance, it is correct and highlights how much we all owe to Robin Marques.

In the late 1970’s the then Association of Public Lighting Engineers leased a basement office in Buckingham Gate in London with a small staff and scant resources. Tales from that time are apocryphal; the financial shenanigans and the mysterious burglary that took place the night before an audit, the only stolen items being the account books. There was also the hollowing out of the President’s badge in order to make it easier to wear. No-one seems to know what happened to the surplus precious metal.

What is certain is, that at that time, the Association very nearly disappeared. Robin Marques became the new Honorary Treasurer, although even this has an air of mystery as there seems to be no record of his actual election. Be that as it may, he put in place a rescue plan. The existing staff ‘left’, the lease on Buckingham Gate was sold and the organisation was relocated en bloc to Lennox House in Rugby, which was in fact the converted half of a semi-detached house, fitted out and decorated largely by the members of the Midland Region.

Secure in its own premises, the Assocation appointed Dorothy Barnes as Secretary with a couple of support staff (one of whom, Chantal 0’Sullivan, remain with the Institution to this day) and, in a short space of time, the future for the organisation looked far more secure.

However, the story doesn’t end there for, with the remaining proceeds from the disposal of the Buckingham Gate lease, Robin made a number of extremely shrewd investments which benefit the Institution to this day.

It wouldn’t be possible under modern charity law but at the time he was able to spread the investments widely in a variety of funds and deposit accounts, all managed professionally by well-known investment managers. Over the years the investments grew and were diversified and enabled the Institution to fund the purchase and development of its current headquarters, Regent House. As CEO at the time, I can well recall raiding various building society accounts in order to meet the builder’s payments at the end of the month.

Even after this the legacy lived on. The Institution’s investments have sustained us through the most recent recession, the worst in living memory. Like many professional bodies we had a falling membership and declining income during this dark period and it has been investment income that has kept the ship afloat and enabled the ILP to develop even during this age of austerity. None of this would have been possible without the wisdom and foresight of Robin Marques.

On a personal note, Robin was extremely kind and supportive to me when I was the new boy at Lennox House. A generous host with a keen wit I enjoyed his company and his advice….. advice which I always heeded.

These few lines do little to pay tribute to an unsung hero of the Institution but I hope that they in some way acknowledge the debt we all owe to the person who, in the words of one past President, “was the man who saved the Institution”.

Above article by kind permission of Richard Frost, CEO, Institution of Lighting Professionals.