Tribute to Robert J. Bourque
Robert J. Bourque, 1940-2022
As I sit here trying to come up with a theme for my tribute to Mr. Robert J. Bourque, there is a smile on my face. It is not because I won’t miss the man, but it is the fact that every time I think of Mr. Bourque, or hear his name, there are so many fond memories.
My partner, Anthony Hobbs and I owe a great deal to this giant of a man. It was in 1988 that he gave Anthony his second accounting job. Anthony smiled as he remembered Robert, who was affectionately known to us as RJB, telling him “I am going to give you a chance”. Anthony got way more than a chance! Robert hired me nine years later in 1997. I had my interview in Toronto and I had missed my flight. Consequently, I inherently knew that I had created a bad first impression. In fact, on the flight over I was making a note of all the accounting firms in Barbados to which I would now need to apply. It was to my amazement that I was met with the broadest of smiles. Robert greeted me like an old friend. He enquired about Deloitte Ottawa and asked if I thought there were ways we could improve the local firm. It was the easiest interview I have ever had and I joined his firm in September of that year.
I must confess that I was initially intimidated as some of the staff gave me the impression that Robert was a “difficult” man for whom to work. However, it took me only a few months to figure it out. It wasn’t that Mr. Bourque was difficult, he simply had no patience for ineptitude or laziness. Robert expected a reasonable level of competence and initiative. If you displayed these traits you were fine. As a former colleague, Carol, so eloquently put it, “RJB just did not like stupidity”. He was never in a rush when he had to explain something to you. He just expected you to do your research before you presented your case. On more than one occasion I saw the smirk on his face after I had made my case, a smirk that showed he knew the solution all along. Carol laughed out loud remembering when he gave her an hour’s notice to attend a meeting. She too recalled the smirk as the client expressed great satisfaction with the work. The training was well worth it and served many of us long after.
When you think about Robert it also brings to mind some of his favourite axioms, the most prominent of which is “Having said that...”. I can scarcely recall a conversation that did not feature this catchphrase. Some other familiar phrases often heard were:
“Always get back to your client.”
“You have to make the client a priority.”
“I am not telling you this to criticize you, I am telling you this because I know you can do better.”
And, my favourite, “If you are wrong Sylvia just apologise. A simple apology goes a long way in solving many problems.”
Anthony made laugh when he mimicked Robert with another popular saying “You have to make sure I review these files even if you have to beat up on me.” This was all in an effort to give great customer service. Having said that, pun intended, refer to the second familiar phrase above.
Debbie left me in stitches when she recalled RJB whispering “Debbie can you make me a coffee?” You see, Robert was trying to keep away from the caffeine or more accurately trying not to be caught by Mary Ellen, his wife of over 55 years. Thus his “coffee” consisted of water flavoured with three grains of coffee and three grains of sugar. On occasion, Debbie gave him a whole six grains of coffee as she sometimes felt sorry for him. There were also his habitual requests for a Coke to which came Debbie’s response, “You’re not supposed to be drinking cokes!” “Well just a small one then”, he would reply. Robert’s love affair with caffeine was clearly undeniable, though I am certain he would tell you otherwise.
While I only knew of his daughter, Shari, I could only imagine that she was somewhat spoilt, judging from the way that Robert certainly spoilt us. There wasn’t a course he refused to let me attend in order to improve my professional development. Even courses in Canada and The Bahamas (Sherry Millar, a former colleague and I burst out laughing when we reminisce about that trip). I also went on a number of overseas assignments in the USA and in the US Virgin Islands and I was encouraged to piggyback these trips with my vacation. Anthony would recall his memories of St. Kitts, the USA and Canada where he too experienced Robert’s generosity. I remember the year when one of the airlines went on strike while I was on assignment overseas. Mr. Bourque bought me a ticket on another flight, in first-class nonetheless, (another smile has come across my face) just to make sure I got home safely. That’s just the type of man he was.
Before one gets the impression the RJB was all about work, it should be noted that Robert’s greatest love was that of his family. If Mr. Bourque came on the job he was sure to treat us to lunch and on such occasions we would get a glimpse of the loving husband, father and grandfather. (By the way, if lunch was Cheffette, this would definitely mean a chicken breast sandwich for RJB.) I would often hear about whatever his treasure, Shari, was doing, or about Mary Ellen’s love of all animals, not just horses. When his Grandsons, Jacob and Samuel, came along that became the new topic of conversation. He absolutely adored those boys!
It was in 2003 after making the decision to leave the firm and the people that I had grown to love, that an opportunity came up. What type of man would hear that you are resigning from your position at his firm, yet help you to secure your next position? I say help, but in reality, Mr. Bourque did it all. Mr. Bourque had me seconded to Cable & Wireless for a few months and then I was offered a position there, where I worked until 2004 when another great opportunity came under the blessing of Mr. Bourque.
In 2004 when negotiations to sell his Deloitte and Touche practice were completed, I had a meeting with Anthony and we contemplated starting our own practice. As we had done so often in the past, we sought Robert's opinion on the matter. If Mr. Bourque had any reservations then, I can tell you there would not be a Hobbs, Niles & Co today. He encouraged us to make a go of it and Mrs. Bourque also gave us great support for this new venture. In fact, by the next day, she sent us a draft of a letter which she wanted to send to her clients showing the new association with our firm. That’s why our firm name is so boring. She put us under pressure to come up with a name ASAP. I don’t know if we ever said thank you to the Bourques. If we didn’t, we are saying thank you publically now. There would be no H, N & Co. without Mr. and Mrs. Bourque.
Finally, one of my favourite qualities about Mr. Bourque was his charitable nature. Most people would agree that is easy to write a cheque to your favourite charities and the Bourques did (I can see Mrs. Bourque cringing now). However, their generosity went way beyond their financial contributions. In fact, what I have found most impressive was the time and man-hours that Mr. Bourque gave to charity. I say hours but these hours added up to weeks and months! We all know of the work he did for the Turf Club and this led to the Broadway to Barbados show. What a production! However, many may be unaware of the substantial amount of time Mr. Bourque invested into putting together this show. The contribution that this charity has made to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is nothing short of extraordinary. All of Barbados owes him a huge thank you for his service to his adopted home. Yet, he never did it for any accreditation
And now that I have reached the end of my tribute, I have finally come up with my theme, “Generous to a Fault”.
Rest in Peace RJB! You will be greatly missed!