Tribute to Robin Gilbert


17 January 2006 Robin Gilbert Robin Gilbert, one of World ORTs most committed professionals, has died after a long illness. During an association with ORT spanning more than 40 years, Mr Gilbert visited almost every country in which ORT was represented and met almost all of the organisations recent key figures. He organised every World ORT Congress from 1960 until his retirement at the 1997 Congress. After graduating from Oxford, Mr Gilbert took a position as headmaster of the Jewish School in Aden. It was while he was there that ORT approached him, asking if he would look into the possibilities of organising a vocational training programme for Ethiopian Jews. He laid the foundations for what was to become a vast vocational training programme in the Gondar region, from where most of the Ethiopian immigrants now living in Israel originated. In 1958, following his Ethiopian assignment, Mr Gilbert was sent to Morocco where new ORT schools were pioneering vocational training. He recalled proudly that the ORT diploma was described there as a passport to freedom because with it all ORT graduates found work wherever they wanted. Robin Gilbert in Ethiopia, 1957. From Morocco he moved to Geneva to take up the post of Director of the ORT Anieres Institute for Teacher Training, which catered to students from 19 European countries as well as Africa, Asia and America. The Institute graduated hundreds of instructors specialising in various fields, including electro-mechanics, industrial design and accelerated courses for much needed mechanics in Israels kibbutzim and moshavim. Many graduates went on to complete higher qualifications some as nuclear engineers. In 1962, Mr Gilbert became ORTs first Director in India. On seeing the poverty that existed in the community he immediately embarked on a programme to feed and care for the community to ensure they were fit and healthy enough to take up schooling. During this period he became the American Joint Distribution Committees first representative in India. Under his leadership, ORT started training boys in a specially constructed polytechnic institute at the Sir Elly Kadoorie School in Bombay. The first vocational subjects were mechanics, carpentry and draughtsmanship. Girls were trained in separate classes in hairdressing and secretarial skills. Within one generation, each boy or girl who graduated with an ORT certificate of competence earned more than their parents. From 1965 until 1980, when ORT moved its administrative headquarters from Geneva to London, Mr Gilbert was Director of Development and Fundraising and later Executive Secretary of World ORT. In 1986, after a gap of six years, he re-joined World ORT headquarters in London, where he worked first as Counsellor, then as Director of External Relations and finally as Consultant to the Director General, until his retirement in June 1997. Mr Gilbert had made a huge contribution to ORT as well as many friends in the organisation, said the Head of World ORTs Education and Technology Department, Dr Gaby Meyassed. He was a lovely man, a gentleman; highly educated, an intellectual who had a great interest in literature and the arts, said Dr Meyassed. No matter how busy he was he was always kind and pleasant and was a highly trusted and capable moderator at major meetings. His exceptional fluency in French meant that he was also called upon, from time to time, to act as a translator, which role he executed, as he did with so much else, with tremendous skill. Mr Gilbert died in Geneva where he had been hospitalised for several months. The funeral has taken place in the Jewish cemetery there.