Professor Sir Robert Grieve, planner and first chairman of the

Highlands and Islands Development Board; born December 11, 1910, died

October 25, 1995

PROFESSOR Sir Robert (Bob) Grieve, who died yesterday aged 84, was one

of the most influential Scots of his generation. While his career

encompassed some of the most important jobs Scotland had to offer, Bob

Grieve considered himself a civil servant in a very literal sense of the


His ambition was more about giving the utmost to the current job than

longer-term personal goals. Indeed, with characteristic irony, he

reflected on his extraordinary, and extraordinarily successful, career

as a process of ''falling up the ladder''.

Born in 1910 in Maryhill, Glasgow, he had for his most fundamental

early influence his mother Catherine. She was fastidious in her care of

both her family and their overcrowded tenement home, well read,

radically socialist in her beliefs -- she was one of the Glasgow women

trusted by John McLean to feed him during his imprisonment -- and Roman


Recognising Bob's intelligence and potential she took him out of the

local Roman Catholic school and enrolled him in the non-sectarian

alternative, North Kelvinside. In this she was, as Bob would recall,

making a great sacrifice as she knew that while it was the best thing

for the boy, he would inevitably drift away from the religion which was

precious to her.

Grieve trained at the Glasgow Royal College of Science and Technology

(now the University of Strathclyde) and qualified as a civil engineer.

During the 1930s he worked in various local government posts, but also

endured periods of unemployment when he would, quite literally, take to

the hills, nurturing a passion for walking and climbing.

In this field, just as in every area of his career, he achieved

substantial success. He was subsequently to become the president of both

the Scottish Mountaineering Council and the Scottish Mountaineering


It was his postgraduate training as a planner, in the early days of

that discipline, which was to determine the course of the rest of his

life. That and his marriage to Mary Blackburn, who would always be known

as May. Their relationship was one of mutual adoration from the outset.

Bob Grieve's first major piece of work as a planner was on Sir Patrick

Abercrombie's team for the Clyde Valley Regional Plan, which was

published in 1946. Abercrombie, the greatest planner of his day, was

much in demand throughout the UK and therefore delegated substantial

areas of the work to Bob Grieve and his cohorts. The two years leading

up to the publication of the plan were immensely demanding and


The regional plan was a fundamentally important document which would

have a major influence on the evolution of the city of Glasgow. In the

years which followed its production, Bob Grieve occupied a number of

Civil Service posts, concluding in 1960 as chief planner at the Scottish

Office, where he was to remain until 1964.

During this time he influenced the planning of Scotland's new towns

and major aspects of road transport in the central belt.

In 1964 he was invited to become the first Professor of Planning at

the University of Glasgow, and just a year later, the first chairman of

the Highlands and Islands Development Board. This latter invitation was

to give him the most important role of his career, and he did not take

on the task lightly.

Indeed, the request that he become chairman led to a substantial

crisis of confidence. He would later recall spending a vexatious evening

in London, knowing that his response to the invitation was required the

following morning. He telephoned May to seek her advice which was

delivered with characteristic pragmatism: ''Bob -- you've got to do it

-- or they'll get somebody worse!''

It is much to May Grieve's credit and Scotland's benefit that he took

her advice. While at the outset one newspaper announced his arrival as

chairman with the headline ''Grieve for Scotland'' his success in the

post was to prepare the way for much of immense benefit to the country

that he loved.

The five years of his chairmanship were the most demanding of Bob

Grieve's life. Issues of land ownership, transport infrastructure,

industry and tourism had to be addressed, differences reconciled,

conflicts quelled and major decisions, which would affect all aspects of

the Highland economy and the welfare of its folk, had to be made.

On departing from the HIDB Bob Grieve returned to the chair of

planning in Glasgow where he continued to apply his skill as an

inspirational teacher until his retiral in 1974.

Retiral in no way signalled a stop to Bob Grieve's work for Scotland.

Indeed, his interests and roles continued to affect the Scottish built

and rural environments.

He chaired the Highlands and Islands Development Consultative Council

from 1970 to 1986, while simultaneously chairing the Royal Fine Art

Commission for Scotland.

His presidencies of the Scottish Countryside and Rangers Association,

the Scottish Rights of Way Society, the New Glasgow Society, the

Inverness Civic Trust, the Saltire Society, Friends of Loch Lomond and

numerous mountaineering organisations, were all undertaken with great

care and energy.

Similarly, his early involvement with the Scottish Constitutional

Convention (where he served as chairman in the production of the Claim

of Right for Scotland), in a major housing study for Glasgow and in

numerous architectural competitions and awards received his customary

care and decisiveness.

He was always able to make the most difficult decisions through a

careful balancing of all the considerations and conditioned by his

powerful feeling for ordinary folk, their needs, drives and aspirations.

The death of May Grieve in 1984 after a long illness caused Bob the

most profound anguish.

In his Who's Who entry, Bob Grieve listed his recreations as

mountaineering and poetry. The breadth of his reading and his ability to

recall substantial passages was always impressive, but never intended to


Like many of his generation, he recalled the early influence of Wells

and Jack London; he had read the great philosophers but unlike most he

could also quote from Robert Pirzig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle

Maintenance, his copy of which, scrawled with annotations, had been read

and re-read.

Bob Grieve's ability as a storyteller is legendary. His mastery of the

nuances of language and his ability to deliver excruciatingly funny

material with a totally deadpan expression made him much beloved as an

after-dinner raconteur.

His many aphorisms tell a great deal about his personality. He would

refer to the careful and deliberate process of thought about complex

matters as ''unscrewing the inscrutable''. His life was characterised by

achievement rather than talking, in his own words he preferred to

''exchange the unexceptional sentiment for the terror of action''.