Sir Terry Harrison obituary

Other lives: Engineer and chief executive of successful businesses who went on to serve on charity boards

My friend Sir Terry Harrison, who has died aged 86, was a man of the north-east and proud to be so. He joined the engineering firm Clarke Chapman in 1957 and became managing director in 1969. Clarke Chapman merged with Reyrolle Parsons to form Northern Engineering Industries (NEI) in 1977, employing 40,000 people.

Terry became chief executive of NEI (1983-86) and was executive chair (1986-89) when it was acquired by Rolls-Royce. He was appointed to the board of Rolls-Royce and in 1992 was made chief executive. Three years later he was knighted. It was said that when Rolls-Royce divested itself of NEI in 1996, it had waited until Terry had safely retired from the board.

Retirement found him almost as busy as he had always been. There were several non-executive roles, including as chair of the construction company Alfred McAlpine. He served on the boards of a number of non-profit businesses, notably the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, an organisation that, in collaboration with the NHS and Newcastle University, is making a contribution to medicine.

Some of his time was given to the board of Azure Charitable Enterprises based at Cramlington in Northumberland. Azure provides care support, skills training and employment opportunity for people in need. I served on those two boards with Terry and he was as diligent there as he must have been in his business life. He knew the questions to ask; and sometimes asked again before being satisfied with the answer.

People often say that if you want something done, ask a busy person. The life led by Terry epitomised that. In the early 2000s while chairing the Development Council of Newcastle University, he also campaigned and helped to raise £6m to fund students through their degree courses.

Born in Wingate, County Durham, Terry was the son of Doris (nee Wardle), a shop assistant, and Bob Harrison, a miner. He attended schools in the pit village including the Wellfield AJ Dawson grammar school, where I first met him. Bob encouraged Terry and his brother Alan to do something other than work in mining. Both became marine engineers.

Terry left school at 15 to begin an engineering apprenticeship with Richardson Westgarth in Hartlepool. The apprenticeship required night school attendance at Sunderland Technical College, and from there he went on to obtain a degree in mechanical engineering at Durham University, graduating in 1955. He then did his national service in Nigeria, as an officer in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, before returning to the UK to begin his career.

In 1956 he married June Forster, whom he met at school. June gave Terry tremendous support, which he recognised and appreciated. She and their two children, Peter and Mark, and two grandchildren, Peter and Molly, survive him.

Alan Kilburn

The GuardianTramp

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