Obituary: RUC sergeant who became prominent businessman

Norman Robb.
Norman Robb.

A well known Co Armagh businessman who passed away last month was at one time the youngest serving sergeant in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Norman Francis Robb passed away at Craigavon Area Hospital on May 28 following a lengthy period of illness. He was 84 years old.

Sergeant Norman Robb pictured in his RUC uniform in the 1950s.

Sergeant Norman Robb pictured in his RUC uniform in the 1950s.

Mr Robb, from Waringstown, died just three days after his 96-year-old sister, Olive Jean McCollum, passed away at the same hospital.

Mrs McCollum, from Lurgan, was a mother-of-four and a grandmother and great-grandmother.

Services of thanksgiving for the lives of Mr Robb and Mrs McCollum were held at Hill Street Presbyterian Church in Lurgan.

Born on April 12, 1934, the son of Benjamin and Minnie Robb, Norman had five brothers, Bill, Jim, Herbert, Stanley and Cecil and two sisters, Olive and Edna.

He attended Bleary Primary School and Lurgan Technical College where a love of chemistry led to his first job in a local pharmacy in Lurgan.

However, after a short spell in the pharmacy he joined the RUC on January 8, 1953, where his leadership qualities were quickly recognised with promotion to the position of sergeant coming very early in his career. He was, in fact, the youngest sergeant in the RUC at that time and served in Crossmaglen and other areas along the border.

During this period he met his wife, Ella, who was also a serving police officer, one of the first of 111 women officers to be enrolled in the RUC.

Shortly after their marriage in 1958, Norman and Ella took the decision to emigrate to Canada and with the help of family and friends they quickly settled in 1959, Norman employed in security at Stelco Steel Works while Ella served as a store detective in a major retail outlet.

Seven years later they took the decision to return home and following a short period of employment with the Belfast Telegraph, Norman, with the help of his brother, Stanley, opened his first petrol service station, the MS Service Station in Edenderry in Portadown.

This was followed by the purchase of the Shell Filling Station at Edenderry close to Chambers Park rugby grounds and within a very short period of time it gained recognition as the busiest Shell Service Station in Northern Ireland – testament to both Norman and Ella’s business acumen.

Further expansion quickly followed with the purchase of the Fairview Service Station on the main Armagh Road just outside Portadown.

Many customers can testify to the numerous times Norman opened in the early hours of the morning to serve their needs including Christmas day shortages.

Over the years, Norman and Ella, along with sons, Philip and Charles and daughter, Norma, grew the business into a landmark location in terms of retail excellence.

Further expansion led to the opening of Ell’s Restaurant at the Dobbin Road site along with an off-licence business.

The restaurant proved very popular both with locals and in terms of passing trade, even celebrities – boxing legend Barry McGuigan was a frequent visitor to the restaurant and his picture took pride of place on the premises.

Business matters were always well to the fore both for Norman and Ella and in the early 1990s further acquisitions followed, this time in France, with Ella purchasing a small hotel in the Dordogne while Norman acquired a farm in Languedoc.

Norman’s 125 acre farm was part of his retirement plan, leasing out the land to a local sheep farmer, whose milk served the Roquefort cheese production. Norman was to receive payment on the first Monday of each month. When the farmer arrived with a large wheel of Roquefort cheese , Norman took this as a welcoming gift. After the third month and the third Roquefort wheel Norman realised that this was actually the rental payment for his land.

Norman travelled widely and wherever he settled always took pride in the family business which now had developed into a wholesale wine business, Robb Brothers Wine Merchants.

Fittingly the business has gone from strength to strength and was awarded ‘Supplier of the Year’ in this year’s Institute of Hospitality Awards.

In 2013 Norman became unwell, developing Guillain Barre Syndrome, which left him with restricted mobility. As the illness progressed he spent periods of time in hospital.

Norman is survived by his wife Ella, sons Philip and Charles, daughter Norma, 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He is also survived by brothers, Stanley, Herbert and Cecil, having been predeceased by sisters, Olive and Edna and brothers, Bill and Jim.

His family have thanked everyone for their kind support and condolences, adding that they will always remember his laugh and love of life, describing him as “one of life’s fullest characters”.

Mr Robb was laid to rest in Seagoe Cemetery.

Mrs McCollum, described in a family notice as the “dearly loved wife of the late William and loved mother of Elizabeth, Olwen, Maurice and David”, was interred at Waringstown Presbyterian Burying Ground.