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LEICESTER’S very own ‘Bob the Builder’ has passed away at the age of 75, leaving behind a legacy at the University of Leicester for being its longest serving vice-chancellor.

Tributes have poured in, following the passing of Professor Sir Robert Burgess, who was universally known to staff and students as ‘Bob’.

He was the University of Leicester’s longest-serving VC, appointed in 1999 and eventually retiring in 2014 after a decade and a half of service.

Picture: University of Leicester

A commitment to expand and improve the university’s teaching and accommodation facilities led to some staff nicknaming him ‘Bob the Builder’ during his time in the role.

During his time at Leicester he oversaw the building of the Henry Wellcome Building, the David Wilson Library, the initial redevelopment of the Percy Gee Building, the George Davies Centre, College Court, the purchase of The Coppice and the redevelopment of Villiers Hall to become John Foster Hall, the extensive refurbishment of Gilbert Murray Hall, among other projects. He also greatly improved the University’s sports facilities, including the construction of the Roger Bettles Sports Centre in Oadby and the purchase of the Nuffield Sports Centre next to campus, now the Danielle Brown Sports Centre.

It was a popular boast among staff that, in just a few years, the University had gone from having no swimming pools to having two of them.

Tributes have poured in for Mr Burgess, who has a string of accolades and successes to his name, including being knighted by HM The Queen in 2010 for services to higher education, both locally and nationally.

“Bob Burgess was a leader about whom I had heard much before I arrived at Leicester – he was a hugely respected and impactful Vice-Chancellor who steered Leicester to its greatest heights,” said Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester.

“I made it a point to reach out to him shortly after I arrived and I benefitted greatly from conversing with him. He was a man of abundant energy and intellect who was passionate about Leicester to which he had devoted 15 years of his life. It became clear to me that he was driven by a passion for achieving excellence for the institution for which he cared so deeply.  In many respects, it is his legacy upon which we now build as we shape the future of this University.

“It is apt that for one who was affectionately known as Bob the Builder that the building named after him is set to open on campus, though we are sorry he will not be able to formally open the building, his name will be an abiding presence amongst future generations of this University,” he added.

“The University will be commemorating his loss and legacy in a fitting way in due course.”

“He enriched and emboldened Leicester and in many ways we began to punch above our weight,” added Gary Dixon, Chair of Council at the University of Leicester.

“I had tremendous respect for his ability and his strength of character, plus his sheer gritty determination. 

“His loss is huge and more so because it comes in the very year we mark our centenary with the opening of the building that bears his name,” he added.

“His legacy is enduring and it will long be associated with the institution to which he was so dedicated.”

Pukaar Group had the pleasure of interviewing Sir Robert back in 2012, which can be read below: