Robin Burgess, the former chief executive of Cumberland News publisher CN Group, was a leading figure in the journalism industry, a devoted husband and father, and a champion for Cumbria.

He was also an approachable employer and a passionate supporter of numerous charities.

An imposing figure at 6ft 5ins, his quiet kindness has been recognised in the many tributes paid since his death from cancer last Friday at the age of 68.

Robin was the fourth generation of his family to be at the heart of this county's biggest media company. The Burgess dynasty began in 1867 when Robin's great-grandfather John Burgess began working as a reporter for The Patriot.

His grandfather, Robert Nelson Burgess, created The Cumberland News by merging The Patriot with the East Cumberland News. His father, Sir John Burgess, launched Border Television. But Sir John's heart was in newspapers, as was Robin's.

Speaking on the eve of his retirement from CN Group in 2016, Robin recalled: “The newspapers have always been there in my life. Occasionally my older sister Anne, my younger brother Charlie and me were allowed to go along to English Street, where ‘Daddy’s office’ was. In the old case room they would make a slug of type with our names on.”

Robin was educated at Seascale Preparatory School in west Cumbria and Glenalmond College in Scotland.

As a child Robin had trouble with his knees. At one stage they were both in plaster. Robin would summon his mother by blowing a trumpet.

His working life began in his late teens as an officer with the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, stationed in Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland in the early 1970s was not an easy place for a British soldier. Robin remembered “once or twice being shot at. I had to put my head down quickly."

After three years in the army Robin returned to civvy street, as a management trainee in East Anglia with publishing company Emap. This was with a view to eventually succeeding his father at CN Group. Sir John did not push him onto this path. But, said Robin, "I suppose newspapers were in my blood."

In 1976 Robin joined the family business. Following a spell in west Cumbria he came to Carlisle as CN Group’s advertising director, and became chief executive in 1985.

His time in the army had taught him the importance of man-management and of caring for his staff. Robin was also prepared to make difficult decisions, such as closing the company's Workington printworks. His father, who died in 1987, was proud of the fact that he had never made anyone redundant. Robin said: "There was always someone saying ‘It would never have happened in Sir John’s day.’ I learned to let it bounce off me. I had to do it my way."

Robin presided over CN Group's expansion and transformation into a multimedia company. It launched and acquired newspapers, magazines, radio stations and websites. Its print business also grew, printing newspapers for publishers around the UK.

In the 1990s Robin spent a year as president of the Newspaper Society. In 2006 he was made High Sheriff of Cumbria. This involved attending more than 60 social engagements during his year in office. “I will have to watch my waistline and so my 20 minutes on my skiing machine while listening to Radio Four’s Today programme will be mandatory," he said.

He used the role to raise the profile of the Crimebeat Initiative, which supported schemes to help youngsters stay away from crime.

His charity work, along with his contribution to the media, was behind the OBE which Robin was awarded in 2008.

For 14 years he was chairman of the Lake District Calvert Trust, which challenges disability through outdoor adventure.

Robin was president of Cumbria Deaf Association. Having experienced partial hearing loss, he had personal understanding of the importance of the association’s work.

He also supported Cumbria Community Foundation. CN Group became the charity’s first corporate donor, handing over £100,000.

Other roles included being a trustee of Carlisle Cathedral Development Trust and a warden at All Saints’ Church in his home village of Scaleby.

Even in the serious business of newspapers and the challenging world of fundraising, Robin's sense of mischief was rarely far away. The grey-haired grandee had a glint in his eye which suggested that he loved to laugh.

Recalling his early years at CN Group, he said: “We had lots of fun in those days. Burns Nights, ‘Cumberland neets’ where people would speak in Cumbrian dialect. The paternalistic way of doing things has gone. It’s nice that people felt part of a family grouping. But society has moved on.”

The newspaper world was changing. Robin, and media executives around the world, grappled with the economic downturn and the struggle to make money from digital journalism as people increasingly read news online.

CN Group was one of the few local media companies still independently owned. Robin rejected numerous offers to sell it for considerable sums. He was proud of CN Group's independence and its titles' quality.

At the 2015 Regional Press Awards Robin was given the Journalists’ Charity Award for services to the industry, on a day when The Cumberland News and its sister title the News & Star won Newspaper of the Year prizes.

Robin retired in January 2016 on his 65th birthday, after 40 years with CN Group including 31 years in charge. He spent his final week with the company visiting every office, speaking to every member of staff.

Interviewed at the time, he said: “I’ll miss lots of things. The excitement is still there when the big stories happen. I’ll miss the smiles I suppose as well. Everybody has their good times and bad times. But it’s been a cheerful place."

The Burgess family retained a majority shareholding. In March 2018 the company was sold to national publisher Newsquest.

Robin had suffered ill health in recent years. He died at home, surrounded by his family. He leaves his wife Alex, to whom he was married for 32 years, and their children, Rose, Kate, Rachel and James.

Tributes have poured in from charities Robin helped and from employees who appreciated his kindness. They have talked of Christmas cards he sent every year to retired members of staff, and handwritten letters of condolence for staff members who had lost loved ones.

His brother Charlie said of Robin this week: "Unlike most newspaper proprietors, he was interested in news. He was interested in how the world worked. He was probably more liberal than most people thought. He was extremely decent."

A private funeral will be held at Scaleby today. A memorial service will take place at Carlisle Cathedral on Thursday April 25 at 5.30pm. All are welcome.

Robin was proud of all his publications. But The Cumberland News had a special place in his heart. A copy will be placed in his coffin today.



Many tributes have been paid to Robin Burgess this week. Cumbrian broadcaster and writer Melvyn Bragg said: "I found Robin to be an extremely likeable and robust man. I met him over several years when we were both on the board of Border Television. Like his father, he was a stalwart son of Cumbria and always on the lookout to increase its fame through television, radio or The Cumberland News.

"He’ll be much missed, I’m sure, by everyone who knew him and worked with him."

David Helliwell was editor of The Cumberland News and the News and Star from 2012 until 2017. He said: "Robin was steeped in the newspaper industry and in many ways was the epitome of what journalists want from a proprietor. He cared passionately that his newspapers play a positive role in their communities, in accuracy and fairness.

"And for a gentle man, he had a fierce regard for the underdog and was always concerned that no one, however rich or influential, should be given any preferential treatment in his titles."

For 14 years Robin was chairman of the Lake District Calvert Trust. The charity’s centre director Sean Day said: “He was just such a lovely person, so knowledgeable, and incredibly caring. He was always willing to go that extra mile. He’d do a two-hour round trip just to show somebody around the trust site."

Carlisle City Council leader Colin Glover recognised Robin’s passion for journalism and added: “He was a real gentleman. He invited me to CN’s HQ in Dalston Road on a number of occasions because he genuinely wanted to gather views from a range of different people, of different backgrounds.

"He wanted to listen to and to really understand what people locally were thinking and feeling, and he genuinely took that on board. He also wanted to celebrate the good things about Cumbria, a place he clearly loved.”

James Graham, former chairman of Border Television, said: "Sir John Burgess became Border's first chairman. Robin maintained the tradition as principal shareholder on the board throughout the time it was in Cumbrian ownership.

"Robin was the utterly reliable rock that gave Border stability, through difficult times to its eventual success, winning awards and spreading its influence into commercial radio.

"He was the archetypal Cumbrian and, I suggest, more than that, a true Englishman, with all the qualities that implies. I think of his steadfastness, reliability, tolerance and friendship. I am left with a recollection of an impish smile, when I met him leaving the cathedral one day and he told me he had bought an electric bike, heralding a cheerful interlude in a testing time of health."