THE death of John Marsh just months short of his 80th birthday has removed from Britain's managerial scene one of its more colourful and pioneering characters.
During the middle years of his life he was accustomed to portraying himself as an iconoclast, but that attribution would have belied his fundamental geniality of humour and his warm personal charm. Those personal attributes were as much a mainspring of his long-running success in an institutional career as was any amount of professional expertise.
He began life in the Far East - his family had trading interests in China and Singapore - but he chose Britain for his working life as an engineering apprentice with the Austin Motor Company. Already his personal skills were manifest, gaining for him promotion to apprentice superintendent at a very early age.
The outbreak of war took Marsh into uniform and he suffered the traumatic distress of the Dunkirk evacuation; a couple of years later that trauma and distress were repeated in much worsened form as a prisoner in Japanese hands afer the fall of Singapore.
Some of the best of Marsh's personal qualities were brought to the fore in the harrowing setting of the Burma railway project, but his concern for others contributed to bringing him through that ordeal both physically and mentally unscathed.
The highlight of his post-war life undoubtedly came in 1950 when he was invited to succeed The Rev Robert Hyde as Director of the Industrial Welfare Society, the significance of that invitation readily appreciated by those knowing the relevant contemporary situation. His 10-year tenure took the society into broader fields of interest and service as well into a wide-ranging international scope. The highlight was Marsh's role in organising and conducting the Duke of Edinburgh's first Commonwealth conference on human relations in industry held at Oxford in 1956. The public acclaim that he gained led to his being head-hunted for the appointment as Director of the British Institute of Management in 1961.
That institute's success during the ensuing decade owed as much to the contemporary circumstances and influences as the input of any particular persons, but to Marsh must go the credit for the international dimension that the institute gained, especially among the numerous Commonwealth countries where he inaugurated or assisted sibling professional institutes.
Marsh was also as much occupied in journeyings abroad for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and for the Overseas Development Administration in the promotion of managerial expertise as he was with the progress of the institute at home.
Those of us who grew increasingly fond of him over the years, will greatly miss his personal warmth and good humour. Humour at times took odd twists; for many years in younger life John and his identical twin brother drew recurrent fun from confusion of identities, because circumstances enabled them both never to reveal the fact of that sibling pairing.