Obituary of Brian Burgess by his work colleague and friend Phil

I first met Brian in 1979 when he and Terry Ball interviewed me for a job at RTZ’s Rossing in Namibia or South West Africa as it was at the time. I had known Terry Ball before but not this rather fierce Africa Corps chap. Thankfully we seemed to hit it off and when he and Carol visited my family and I in Lancashire I knew in my gut that we would end up working together.

That started a relationship that has lasted for 43 years and has grown frombeing a boss/subordinate relationship to one where I consider him to be one of my closest friends. Brian was proud to be an electrical engineer but he was one of the most able human resource practitioners (personnel managers) of his era. I say of his era because it is only in the last 3 months or so that Brian and 3 other friends, were discussing political correctness and the current woke society at work. He said he was happy to have left all the bull to the new generation and he was glad that we had worked during the good years!

Mind you, I think that the good years for many of his colleagues were a result of the efforts of Brian who converted from being an engineer to being a consultant and then was appointed as the Personnel Manager of the Rossing venture in “pre independence” Namibia, moving there from Rhodesia.

The removal of apartheid labour laws in South West Africa allowed Rossing to set itself up as a model employer in this emergent nation. Brian planned and led this with his responsibilities for people, housing, training and development, health and social services. Permanent employees, not contract employees, brought their families to this desert outpost where they lived, played and developed, were educated and integrated, first and foremost as a Rossing family, regardless of their ethnicity or background. Brian worked very hard to lead this radical development programme, we also played hard and we had fun. The personnel team of Brian, Keith Jenner, Norman Trethewey, Wotan Sweigers, Johan Swanepoel and I used to meet in Brian’s office to plan and recap on the events each week. This gave a fascinating insight into the progress of the plans but also gave a chance for us to develop our own team. I honestly have never laughed so much before or since. One time I remember Brian just about falling off his chair when Keith Jenner was telling us how not to dry off a cat in a microwave oven!

Such interludes didn’t stop our hard work but did make for memorable times. Brian and I used to go to Johannesburg to sort out pensions or medical aid issues but also took the opportunity to get to know each other. The whisky billfor nightcaps at the Carlton Hotel were sometimes larger than the the bill for the meals!Brian became the Engineering manager at Rossing for a short period and, being an electrical engineer originally, he coped admirably with the changed emphasis. However he was soon asked to go to Palabora, RTZ’s copper mine in South Africa, as their Personnel Manager. This was a time of change in southern Africa and Brian led the company through the early days following the Mandela release with its universal suffrage and emerging unions, especially the NUM, then led by the current South African President, Cyril Ramaposa.I thought Brian and Carol were going to be “Africa hands” for ever more but before long RTZ wanted him to relocate to their head office in St James’s Square. There Brian and Tony Davidson together pioneered Rio’s international succession planning and senior management development programme. This added even more international exposure to Brian’s African experience and he travelled across the globe identifying and developing the Company’s talent. There was also a relatively short spell in Salt Lake City where Brian was appointed as the personnel leader of RTZ’s largest North American operation before he came back to London and to St James’s Square where Brian eventually had his palm crossd with silver following which he took an early retirement.Stuart has talked about Brian as a family man but he was part of our working family and there are too many stories to fondly relate today. Our colleague, George Macras, remembers Brian getting up in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Namib, grumbling that Haley’s Comet could have hung around until it was time for Brian to get up.All of his friends and colleagues will tell of Brian’s midnight curfew after dinner parties. He tried to be fierce of course but my children, along with many others including of course Toni and Dena, can only speak fondly of “Uncle Brian”. Tony Davidson talks of Brian rescuing him from being led astray in the Soho fleshpots after an international conference.

For the last few years Brian and I and 3 or 4 other ex colleagues have played golf a few times a year and when the golf became too much for him Brian was chief buggy driver and critic. I well recall a short golfing holiday in Spain more notable for wine and snoring than the quality of our golf. We also had memorable lunches, particularly at the RAC Club where Brian, much to the annoyance of Tony Davidson remained a member! Brian was, of course, so very proud of his children, step children and grandchildren, and whenever Olivia and I would visit Carol and Brian we would be brought up to date about who in the family was doing, or had achieved, what accolade or experience. He always told us how lucky he was to live within striking distance of his family. We also always drank copious amounts of wine from his seemingly bottomless supply sourced from his local Majestic!

Many of our mutual friends have been in touch with me since they heard the news about Brian and without exception they all remember a good man, a friend, a colleague who never held back or shied away from issues. He tackled the difficult subjects, he worked hard and played hard. Had a great sense of humour and of the ridiculous. He was a kingpin, the “go to” person and had the respect of all he worked with.

He was a very good friend and I will miss him