Terence Robinson (1918 - 2016):
Terence Robinson’s business career in various areas was interrupted by distinguished war service including being part of the Royal Navy fleet which was victorious in one of the most famous sea battles of the Second World War. He later would go into business and rise to be Managing Director, Executive Chairman and finally Non-Executive Director of Coca-Cola Bottlers (Ulster) Ltd; he was popularly known as “Mr Coca-Cola” and many regarded his leading role as making success inevitable.
Arthur Terence Robinson was born in Belfast and educated at the Quaker School, Stramongate, Kendal, and St George’s School Harpenden, Hampshire, where he was victor ludorum (overall sports champion) in 1936. From school he entered the hospitality business as an unpaid assistant manager at the George Hotel, Aberdeen, later moving to London to work at the Cumberland Hotel as a commis (junior) chef, where he was known as “Chopper” because of his morning duty of chopping vegetables for the day. Just as this keen athlete had played rugby in Aberdeen, in London he turned out for the First XV at Saracens, one of the city’s leading clubs. In 1938 he moved to Switzerland where he worked at two leading hotels, the Hotel Splendide Royal, Lugano and the Hotel du Château d’Ouchy, Lausanne. A tale survives from that time of his celebrating his twenty-third birthday by singing in the street, rather too loudly for the police who hosted him for the night in their cells. His spell in Swirtzerland ended in a last-minute dash down the platform to catch the last train to be admitted in France at the outbreak of the Second World War.
He enlisted in the Royal Navy as an Ordinary Seaman and was posted to the destroyer HMS Cossack on which as bridge lookout he would have had a clear view of the Cossack’s various activities from minelaying to convoy escort duty, in different theatres from the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic, activities which naturally drew much enemy fire both above and below the surface. In 1941 Robinson was on the bridge when Cossack was directly involved in the sinking of the feared German battleship Bismarck, then widely reckoned to be the most formidable such vessel afloat and a serious danger especially to British merchant shipping. Cossack sailed at high speed towards the enemy ship to fire on it from close range. Bismarck was finally sunk the following day to provide the Royal Navy with one of its greatest victories. After the battle Cossack docked at Southampton for refitting, during which Robinson enjoyed a suite at the Polygon Hotel, provided by a former colleague. One night he battled and extinguished over a dozen incendiary bombs dropped on the roof; the grateful hotel owners presented him with a gold watch.
In 1942 Robinson was posted as first lieutenant to Motor Launch 147 based in Lowestoft. It was during this posting that he dived into a rough sea in freezing temperatures to rescue a colleague who had fallen overboard. For this act of bravery, he was awarded the Royal Humane Society Testimonial on Vellum. In 1943 he was posted as first lieutenant to MGB (Motor Gun Boat) 641, based in North Africa. Action in this theatre involved engagement with enemy vessels on and under the sea as well as with shore batteries. In one of these latter, MGB 641 was badly damaged. Though her crew was rescued by other MGBs, Robinson, unscathed, nevertheless lost his gold watch. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “marked courage, skill and resource whilst serving in Light Coastal Forces, in a successful attack on heavily armed enemy barges off the Istrian Coast”.
During the War the first Coca-Cola bottles were being sold for fourpence each by the new Ulster Iced Drinks Company at Rumford Street off Belfast’s Shankill Road; Tom Robinson, Terence’s father held the franchise. After the war in 1945 he returned home to Ulster and immediately began assisting in expanding the business. He started very much at the bottom, selling Coca-Cola to hotels around Belfast from the back of an icebox-fitted moped. With his military background, he described these activities as “Operation Coca-Cola”. This took him far afield and on one such tour of North American Coca-Cola bottlers he met one Babs Morphy; they married in 1950 in London, Ontario. Over the years he would be a driving force in the company's growth, becoming Managing Director in 1960. By the late Sixties the business, which became known as Coca-Cola Bottlers (Ulster) Ltd, had moved into a former mill at Lambeg, and this was masterminded by Robinson. He served as Chairman of Coca-Cola Bottlers (Ulster) from 1972 to 1987. By the occasion of his 90th birthday, the firm, having started with four employees and one brand, was employing 850 people and selling a range of soft drinks across the island of Ireland. Robinson remarked of his long successful career that “if you want your dreams to come true, don't oversleep.” Robinson’s energies and talents were not confined to Coca-Cola. He also raised an award-winning herd of Limousin cattle, which took him on frequent trips to the Limousin and Marché regions of France where the breed originates.
Terence Robinson was a JP and was appointed OBE in 1987. He was predeceased in 1985 by his first wife Babs; in 1996 he married Phyllis Doak (née Neill) who survived him, as did their three children.
|Born:||22 April 1918|
|Died:||12 August 2016|
Belfast Telegraph 3 May 2008 and 13 August 2016; Daily Telegraph obituary 16 Sep 2016; Coastal Defence Volunteers website cfv.org.uk; Irish News 3 Sep 2016
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