Scottish journalism has lost a giant, with the early death, aged 54, of Jim Robb, editor of the Ayrshire Post.
An Honest Man of Ayr, Jim left Carrick Academy to join the Ayr Advertiser as a 17-year-old trainee reporter. The Advertiser, Scotland’s oldest weekly newspaper, was then a broadsheet, a traditional “hot metal” paper, printed down a narrow close off Ayr’s high street.
But it had a good reputation for quality journalism and under the paternal eye of chief reporter Bob Blane and the patrician management of the Dunlop family, Jim learned his trade so well that within five years he became the youngest editor in the paper’s history and the youngest editor in Scottish journalism at the time.
It was the start of more than 30 years in the editor’s chair. During his time in charge of the Advertiser he oversaw its transition, through a change of office, incorporation into a larger group and a subsequent change of proprietor, into a full-colour tabloid. A conscientious nuts-andbolts journalist, Jim found his true forte in page layout and sub-editing.
He gave many journalists who have gone on to star in national newspapers their start at Ayr. His was a 24/7 commitment to his paper, raising its circulation in competition with the greater assets, not least in terms of paid-for advertising, of the rival Ayrshire Post.
His arrival at the Advertiser coincided almost exactly with Ally MacLeod’s appointment as Ayr United manager and, although a Hearts supporter, Jim, first as his paper’s sports reporter and even after his promotion to editor, oversaw the sports pages personally and followed Ayr United all over Scotland.
In the mid-Eighties, however, after more than 20 years in the editor’s chair, he shocked the small world of Ayrshire journalism when he accepted an offer to edit the Dumfries & Galloway Standard.
Here, he oversaw the paper’s change from broadsheet to tabloid and increased its circulation. Then, in December, 1989, came his greatest journalistic challenge – Lockerbie.
The shock of the attack on Flight 103 soon gave way to a determination to correctly reflect the biggest story ever to hit the Standard’s patch. So well did Jim and his staff cope with the trauma of the event that his reporting team won the Reporter of the Year prize in the Scottish Press Awards in 1990, while Jim was named Journalist of the Year.
By 1993, however, he had become disillusioned by the managerial demands on his time and wanted to return to laying out pages and putting out the best paper he could. So he resigned and returned to live in Ayr.
After a short spell with the Paisley Daily Express, he was offered the job of chief sub-editor on the Ayrshire Post.
His first marriage broke up, he remarried and seemed to be settled in a job he loved, as an anonymous but firstrate production journalist. Then fate intervened.
Within a very short timescale Ayrshire Post editor Tommy Workman suffered a heart attack and took early retirement. Deputy editor Alastair McMillan, while in temporary charge, died suddenly, so Jim stepped into the breach, first as acting editor, then as editor. He was the only man to have edited both the Advertiser and the Post.
He coped with massive upheaval as the Trinity Mirror management forced through changes which saw printing plants closed and the introduction of central subbing pools.
Jim handled the upsets with typical ease, but then came the bombshell: he was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney.
Despite battling bravely against the disease and having a kidney removed, the cancer spread.
Knowing Jim was gravely ill, the Post editorial staff held their Christmas 2003 party in his house.
Weak though he was, earlier this year he attended Ally MacLeod’s funeral. It was the last time many of his colleagues saw him.
His funeral service at Ayr’s Masonhill Crematorium was attended by present and former colleagues, as well as civic and business leaders from Ayrshire.
Jim is survived by his first wife, Maureen, and their son Stephen, and by second wife Anne Marie, stepdaughters Juliette and Sarah and grandchildren Maria and James
Matt Vallance, freelance sports journalist