Herbert Loebl

Herbert Loebl

18 April 1923
Bamberg, Germany
28 January 2013
Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Words by
Miriam with Naomi and Robert Children

Our father loved speeches. No event, however big or small, formal or informal, was complete without someone standing up and at the very least offering some words of thanks,

So I know he will be relying on us to deliver a proper job here this afternoon.

But with very little time to prepare, and so much to say about the man who has left us and whose body we have come here to lay to rest, the best we can do is try to capture the essence of Herbert Loebl, who in his long and full life touched and made a difference to many people’s lives.

It is hard to imagine that such a large and powerful character has gone. Even when he was very ill in hospital in December and again in recent weeks, Herbert made his mark and the marvellous staff in Ward 52 at the RVI, although perhaps missing his former energy and drive saw something of the charisma that many of us experienced when he was younger and stronger. One of the nurses commented on the business card Herbert had shown her and said she told him he had the whole alphabet after his name! Indeed, he gained many degrees, qualifications and awards including a BSc, MPhil, PhD, honorary doctorate, OBE and Queens Award for Export, and always loved the degree ceremonies. You could say this gathering is his final graduation (in this life, at any rate).

I think the most important thing to say is Herbert loved his family and was so proud not only to be a father and grandfather, but also a great grandfather. When Naomi and Robert and I were growing up we would literally groan and frankly switch off with boredom when he started on one of his long, and to him utterly fascinating explanations about how our 6th cousin twice removed fitted in to the family tree. But I think now we understand a bit more about his passion to connect to his past and collect a history and we are hugely privileged that we have this treasure of information that he gathered.

Herbert was born in 1923.He was a talented young boy who grew to manhood through the most turbulent period of the modern age that the Jewish people had ever endured. We do not know what his thoughts and ambitions were in his childhood and early teenage years. Whatever the ambitions he may have had

a significant and very personal contribution to job creation and the economically thriving North East.

were suppressed as he had to leave his native country, grandparents, friends and community, the whole world he had known. He came to a foreign land and for years he was an alien.

Maybe these feelings of alienation contributed to his strong desire to become successful and to make his mark in his adoptive country. He rebuilt friendships, feelings of community, created a family of his own and pursued education and success in all spheres. Perhaps it was his deep need to try to come to terms with what he had lost that drove him to create a record of all his activities, events and successes(his own and his family’s)in the 20 scrapbooks by which he wants to be remembered.

After the terrible trauma of being uprooted from his home town of Bamberg in Germany as a teenager, he settled and made a life in Newcastle upon Tyne, and for the rest of his life held a deep attachment to both cities. We would joke that Herbert was the self appointed Ambassador of the North East, and he could never understand why anyone would want to live in such a dreadful place like London. I have to say that having spent the last week here with him, I have had a wonderful opportunity to be reminded of the phenomenal spirit and essential warmth of the people of Newcastle, and much more sympathy with and understanding of Herbert’s reluctance to leave, even if this meant he was far away from his family.

Herbert was a doer. He was hardworking. He was ambitious for himself and for others. As an entrepreneur he built businesses of his own, starting with Joyce Loebl which he started with his University friend Bob Joyce, designing and manufacturing electronic and scientific instruments, going on to create a group of companies. For years the company name Joyce Loebl was a by-word for manufacturing excellence in the North East. As a pioneer of business support for British firms he helped create and nurture many businesses. He set up Enterprise North, Britain’s first voluntary support agency and brought his considerable expertise to his public work in industry, both in the UK and in the European Community in Brussels. In 2011 he founded the Herbert Loebl Export Academy with Newcastle University Business School. All in all he made a significant and very personal contribution to job creation and the economically thriving North East.

In his spare time, Herbert loved going to concerts, playing the violin in the string quartet which met regularly in his home and listening to classical music. He enjoyed cryptic crosswords. He loved good food and wine and beautiful countryside especially when it reminded him of his still trouble- free and innocent boyhood. We have very strong memories of going wild blueberry picking with him in the woods near our country house in Northumberland which was one of his favourite pursuits.

As we know, Herbert was not always an easy personality to deal with, but I think he was regarded as a very interesting man, a fair and good employer and an inspiring leader. His values were intensely Jewish-he gave charity and performed good deeds.

We would like to pay tribute to those who have looked after our father in recent years, when he became increasingly frail, Pat and Paula and especially Mona who has been a devoted friend and companion.

Sadly, Herbert was not able to fulfil his ambition to celebrate his 90th birthday on 18th April, but reaching his 90th year is a pretty fantastic achievement after a busy life.

We can only hope that his indomitable spirit will live on and he will rest in peace forever. May God bless you and keep you, May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God’s face turn towards you and give you peace. Amen.

Words by
Kate Baker Granddaughter

Here is one of my last conversations with Herbert, on the phone some time last year.

Herbert “Have you won a Nobel prize yet? And have you found a husband?”

I apply the useful tactic of a deflecting counter-question.

“Papa, which should I prioritise?”

Surprisingly long, considered pause.

Herbert “You can do both!”.

Thinking about this conversation over the last few days, it has come to summarise for me many aspects of the Herbert Loebl legacy.

Firstly, to survive interactions with Herbert, it helped to develop a fairly thick skin. The line between affectionate supportive teasing and comments that could seriously fray one’s self-confidence was very thin, and was crossed, once or twice. Perhaps he helped us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Secondly, Herbert genuinely believed that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that a member of his family might win a Nobel prize, and also find a husband if they happened incidentally to be a woman. Both were in his eyes worthwhile and achievable missions, requiring persistence, a few good ideas and a little bit of luck. He had that confidence in himself, and extended it to us.

He gathered the embers of Jewish Bamberg and searched for scattered friends and relatives

“Successful” is a term often applied to Herbert and he was that. The facts are well-rehearsed – arriving in the UK as a 15 year-old German refugee in 1938, escaping from the catastrophe that would include the deaths of many family members and friends. Internment as an alien on the Isle of Man, a time he enjoyed due to the number of famous musicians and other interesting characters in the camp. The clever and ambitious apprentice and then qualified engineer, parting company from the family electrical firm to start a new venture with a college friend, Robert Joyce, under the railway arches, on a shoestring, manufacturing tools and scientific instruments. The determination bordering on obsession in driving forward the burgeoning business empire and personal reputation, becoming a lifelong mentor for his apprentices and a powerful advocate for enterprise and export in the North East and beyond.

He enjoyed the recognition that his work received (the doctorates, earnt and honorary, the Queens awards, the OBE and more, all documented in the endless scrapbooks). But Herbert did not only work for finance, recognition or to swell the archives. He had single-minded commitment and energy for tasks that he felt were interesting or important, even if initially nobody else understood or shared his passions. Success (and for success you could read satisfaction and contentment) perhaps depends on celebrating ones achievements to a greater extent than dwelling on ones failures and losses. Many losses, many disasters (and we won’t mention his driving), but taking the long view Herbert was a successful man and he leaves a legacy of risk-taking, leadership and adventure which he wanted us to share and enjoy.

Thirdly, science. An aspect of Herbert’s working life of great significance to me is his contribution to biomedical science. 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the publication by Watson and Crick of the proposed structure of DNA, and Herbert was 60 years ahead of his time in recognising the medical and industrial opportunities offered by the genomic revolution. The instrument that Joyce-Loebl is most famous for manufacturing was the optical microdensitometer – a personality of its own in our family. The microdensitometer was used by pioneers in X-ray crystallography and molecular biology, including Rosalind Franklin, Max Perutz and Sydney Brenner (Nobel prize winners and huge figures in 20th century science, considered by Herbert to be his friends and colleagues in addition to being his clients). They used the Joyce-Loebl equipment to visualise and quantify the properties of DNA and other biological molecules such as haemoglobin and viruses. Papa appreciated the aesthetic and theoretical beauty of these observations, and the process of scientific enquiry – combining great questions, incisive ideas and precise measurement. The empirical data derived from Joyce-Loebl microdensitometer readings is fundamental to our current knowledge of the molecules of life, knowledge I now apply to diagnosis of rare congenital disorders, and that others apply in targeting treatments for infection and cancer. 

Discussing research with Papa was a pleasure, because unlike most people he didn’t ask what use my science might be. Papa’s view was that scientists aren’t supposed to apply our ideas – that’s for industrialists to exploit. He appreciated the thrilling adrenaline rush of searching for and finding a little piece of evidence that might support a hypothesis, the playful, creative, competitive element, and the privilege of a quest for new understanding. Papa participated in the emergence of molecular genetics and foresaw how it could be applied for medical benefit, also recognising its potential for perpetuating discrimination by misinterpreting individual differences in biology as differences in value between one human and another. So Papa leaves me a unique scientific, medical and ethical inheritance. And for each of Herbert’s grandchildren – my brother the teacher, artist and parent, my cousins the scholars, musicians, politicians, journalists, innovators and activists – I think we feel in some way woven into the evolving human tapestry by him.

Lastly, our conversation reflects, perhaps more distantly now, the complex and fundamental legacy of the Shoah – our responsibility to restore what is good and true to the world, via our public and private actions. Papa made it very clear that we should stand away from and out from the crowd, implying that to follow the crowd was a dangerous as well as an unrewarding path. Herbert needed to triumph over the evil he had witnessed, renewing civilised culture and preserving a beautiful tradition that could have been destroyed completely. He gathered the embers of Jewish Bamberg and searched for scattered friends and relatives, memorialising and documenting, and in doing so igniting something different – a new era of mutual understanding and respect. He perceived this as his absolute duty to the past and to the future. Whilst this legacy may seem weighty, burdensome even, I have never felt it to be so. It gives us the liberating right not to follow mindless orders, to challenge oppression, to speak out against injustice, to be intolerant of intolerance. Simply to be the best men and women that we can be, and truly to be ourselves.

So here is another answer Papa “I’m working on it”.