Most painfully, I have to report that another of our great friends has passed away this morning - and in this case, only in his mid-60s, agonisingly too early.
Robert Brooks - auctioneer, former racing driver, European Touring Car Champion (Group N), successful Historic racer, former Chairman of the BRDC - lost his two-year battle with cancer this morning.
I first got to know him when he was a starry-eyed teenaged motor racing enthusiast wearing a brown coat and working as a porter at the Christie's South Kensington sale-room headed by his auctioneer father, Bill. They ran regular sales of motoring books and collectibles. Soon Robert was promoted, becoming the blazered or suit-wearing sophisticated No 2 in the Hon. Patrick Lindsay's pet motoring department of Christie's, and then its dynamic and ambitious head.
He and I worked together closely from as early as 1981 and the BRM Collection Sale - then the Bugatti Royale sale in the Albert Hall in 1987. In preparation for that he had been talking of possible venues, dismissing each of the usual ones in turn as being inadequate for cars of such great calibre. As a throwaway remark I rashly said "Huh - you'll be hiring the Albert Hall next". Within days RB phoned me and said "You know you suggested The Albert Hall other day? Well I've just hired it!"... And he had.
Christie's dedicated historic and classic car sales boomed under his deft direction. The Monaco Sales were launched, and succeeded, but RB's frustrations with Christie's relatively staid, unimaginative and restrictive ways chafed. With equally enthusiastic backing and encouragement from Dutch collector and museum proprietor Evert Louwman, RB created Brooks Auctioneers in 1989 - just in time for the collapse in the classic car market.
After early struggles the new company flourished with a combination of RB's ex-Christie's crew (including yrs trly) and our counterparts from Sotheby's car department (led by Malcolm Barber) gelling into what became, in the 1990s, the strongest classic car auction company in the business.
Brooks Auctioneers became so profitable it absorbed Bonhams and the British operation of Phillips, and was re-branded under the Bonhams name (because while Brooks had been founded only in 1989, Bonhams had been founded in 1793...).
Robert had been a frustrated would-be racing driver since his teens. After a Jim Russell school course - in which he and fellow-pupil, future Formula 1 journalist, Alan Henry impressed each other - he had a brief Formula Ford career with a Dastle, ended abruptly by a sizeable shunt which consumed the last of his available funds. He learned to fly, to parachute, he was a decent game shot but he hankered after racing to emulate in some modest way his hero Jackie Stewart. In the early 1990s with Evert Louwman's D-Type Jaguars and Lotus 15 he learned the ropes, and to temper his initial wildly competitive driving for long enough actually to reach the finish. In his early races, of all the flags he'd seen the chequer was a rarity.
At an early Goodwood sprint meeting word went round that RB was about to run in the D-Type. "Ooh good" cried someone, "All down to the chicane to watch Brookie spin off!". So down we went and - sure enough - leaving Woodcote - he spun off.
But race driving tuition, first from veteran John Harper, later from Rob Wilson, careful Lotus 15 preparation from David Noble and (least) frequent rollickings from myself saw RB turn himself into a fast, controlled, tough and capable amateur racer. With Rob he won their European touring car title (in class), which qualified him for long-coveted full membership of the BRDC. Always a man wanting to run the show he worked hard there to become a Committee member and then Chairman and, in sometimes tense negotiation with Bernie Ecclestone, he helped steer the Club through some difficult times.
But then health problems began to intrude. A few years ago he and Evert Louwman sold their joint creation - the modern Bonhams company - typically, at the top of the potential market, to new private equity owners and thereafter Robert concentrated upon renovating and running an extensive farm he had bought in deepest Somerset.
Over the decades he and I had circled the globe together several times on 'old car' business. We had hunted great cars and vintage aircraft in the USA, Uruguay, Japan, Australia and New Zealand - we had run cars repeatedly in the Classic Adelaide Rally in Oz, and we had indulged a shared interest in military history even by spending time yomping across the Falklands. RB was also absolutely instrumental in helping Charles March at Goodwood create our Festival of Speed - then the Revival Meeting. The man was a serious player. And he was principled. And in my experience he was commercially as straight as a gun barrel.
Like his great friend and long-time sparring partner Adrian Hamilton, also lost to us this past grim weekend, he lived at full throttle - and he encouraged and fostered many new young talents within his business world. He wasn't always user friendly. He had a short fuse, and he always wore his heart on his sleeve - but he seldom bore a grudge and any detonation was usually justified - and when it wasn't he would be the first to apologise and seek to put the matter right. His team respected and admired him. - some of the younger ones perhaps with that little frisson of fear...but get it right, and he would support them to the hilt.
Robert leaves wife Evelyn, daughter Sarah, sons Charlie and John - and umpteen grandchildren. We were all privileged - and are now all proud - to have known him.