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Former aircraft company chief Sir Philip Foreman passes away

Former aircraft company chief Sir Philip Foreman passes away

THE former chairman of the Shorts aircraft company in Belfast, Sir Philip Foreman, has passed away. He died at a nursing home in County Down only weeks before his 90th. birthday.

Sir Philip was not from Northern Ireland but he was to spend most of his life here. His contribution to making Shorts one of the world’s respected aerospace companies and a cornerstone of the Northern Ireland economy, was immense.

Born in Exning in Suffolk, the young Foreman was to develop an early interest in mechanics. He won a British Empire Open Scholarship to Loughborough College, from where he graduated in 1943 with a first class honours diploma in Mechanical Engineering.

Sir Philip was keen to make his contribution to the war effort and applied to join the Royal Navy, but he was turned down because of colour blindness. However, the authorities recruited him for the Royal Naval Scientific Service and he was sent to the Admiralty Research Laboratory at Teddington.

It was at the Teddington facility that Admiralty’s boffins carried out cutting-edge research, some of which was based around anti-submarine work.

Sir Philip remained at Teddington until 1958 when he moved to Belfast to work in the guided missile section of Short Brothers and Harland. His initial work was on the Seacat missile, which was a ship-based weapons system.

His great skills were soon recognised by the company and within three years he had been appointed chief engineer in the guided weapons division.  In 1964 he became the company’s chief engineer with responsibility for all of Shorts engineering activities including aircraft design.

His rapid rise within the aerospace company continued with an appointment to the Board as Deputy Managing Director in 1965, then becoming Managing Director two years later. 

His period at the helm was to see the Belfast company increasing its exports to many markets across the world including the Middle East and United States.

His contribution to industry was rewarded with a C.B.E. in 1972  and a Knighthood in 1981.

Sir Philip had a reputation for being a straight-talking leader who set high standards but who was highly respected by both his staff and his business competitors.

The late journalist Bob Rodwell, who had joined Shorts as public relations manager in the late 1960s, recalled how a mix-up had led to an advertisement appearing in the press which announced that the company had again won a Queen’s Award for Industry. Unfortunately, it turned out that the company had surprisingly missed out on the award that particularly year. On the morning the ad appeared, Bob would recount how he was having breakfast when his boss telephoned. The conversation was short and to the point: “Rodwell, you’re fired” was all Sir Philip said before he rang off.

Sir Philip retired as Chairman and Managing Director of Shorts in 1988. He remained active in his retirement. As well as setting up an engineering consultancy firm, he also served as chairman of the British Standards Institution from 1988 to 1991 and was the organisation’s President from 1994 to 1998.

Sir Philip passed away at a nursing home in Holywood on Saturday (February 23).  He is survived his his wife, Lady Margaret, and son Grahame.

His Funeral Service took place in Holywood on Thursday (February 28). For full details, please view the notice.

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