October 22, 1956 – July 24, 2018
With broken hearts, we announce the passing of our son and brother. Robert David Allan Knutson was born on 22 October 1956 in Vancouver, B.C. and died in London, England on 24 July 2017.
Robert was the third child of Carl and Doreen Knutson. His parents were delighted to hang an “It’s a Boy” banner in their window on the day of his birth, and their ideal family – two girls and two boys, two years apart – was completed by John’s arrival in 1959.
When Robert was three, Carl and Doreen bought Pitt’s Drugs in Castlegar, B.C. and moved their young family to the Kootenays. Robert grew up in Woodland Park, just down from his parents’ second store, Carl’s Plaza Drugs. His childhood was full of adventure and he was lucky to find a friend for life, Jon Sweeney, living around the corner. With ‘the rest of the gang’ – Mark Sylvest and David Maddocks – Jon and Robert explored the many building sites in Woodland Park, swam, rode their bikes, hunted down ants’ nests and got into all sorts of mischief. Robert regarded the Sweeney’s house as a second home and grew to love Jon’s parents, Doris and Wilf. Jon and Robert attended Air Cadets and spent many carefree weekends at Christina Lake. Both of them were excellent downhill skiers and loved skiing off-piste on Red and Granite mountains with brother John. Jon managed Robert’s campaign for high school president and could always make him laugh with his wry sense of humour and corny jokes.
Robert enjoyed watersports and was a founding member of the Castlegar Aquanauts. He specialized in butterfly stroke and was good enough to make it to the provincial championships. Like his sisters before him, he qualified as a lifeguard in his teens. Teaching Red Cross swimming lessons convinced him that he loved children and wanted “about seven”and many parents praised him for his patience and gentle ways. Robert also excelled at chess and was a natural at debating. From an early age, his convincing arguments on various subjects, such as ‘why I shouldn’t have to wash dishes’, suggested to his family that he might become a lawyer. He looked up to and was encouraged by a family friend, local Q.C. Michael Moran.
After graduating from Stanley Humphries Secondary School in 1974, Robert went travelling with Carl and John. Together they collected a 38′ sailboat, the Doreen M, from her shipyard in Gosport and sailed her to the West Indies. The trip was eventful, not least because a clogged bilge almost sank them in the Bay of Biscay and they had to be rescued by the British Navy. Robert suffered from sea sickness and wasn’t a natural sailor like John, but he persevered and developed a love of the sea that gave him pleasure for many years.
Upon his return, Robert enrolled at the University of British Columbia. Although he was devastated by the tragic death of his friend Randy Martini (“Rads”) in 1977, his time at the Coast was largely happy and productive. He boarded for a time with family friends, the Voths, and profited from the warm and creative atmosphere of their home. His first true love, Rita, encouraged his ‘inner academic’ and became a lifelong friend. After completing three years of an arts degree – majoring in political science, but waxing philosophical on other topics, such as Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais” – Robert entered law school.
Robert loved the law: it was his true calling and his gateway to the wider world. He was awarded a Bachelor of Laws in 1982 and articled in Vancouver, but his sights were set on distant horizons. With his parents’ blessing (and a useful cheque from Mom!) he accepted a place at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where he earned a Master of Laws in 1984.
While in London, Robert fell in love with a fellow student, Virginia Calder. The two of them were married in her hometown, Glasgow, in August 1986. The couple had three children: Olivia, Christopher and Anabelle. Rob’s kids were his greatest joy and he loved spending time with them. He did his best to teach them the value of honesty and tolerance, and to instill in them a sense of wonder. The family travelled extensively: to the beach at Brighton and the summer solstice at Avebury; to Greece, Italy and France; and farther afield, to Australia and Japan. Robert took hundreds of family photos, which he looked through and cherished to the end of his life.
Robert was an associate at Allen & Overy and worked for the London office of New York law firm Whitman & Ransom before joining Masons (now Pinsent Masons) in 1991. He had decided to specialize in construction law and arbitration, and was awarded a Master of Science in that field by King’s College in 1991. He went on to complete a third postgraduate degree, a Master of Philosophy in private international law, at the LSE in 1996. He became a partner in the arbitration group at Masons in 1995 and continued working there, specialising increasingly in construction disputes, until 2001.
His partnership at Masons allowed Robert to support a variety of charities, collect some art, and spend time with family and friends, no matter how distant. He loved throwing a “huge roast” on the barbecue for a casual dinner party, spending the last days of summer by his mother’s pool in Castlegar and celebrating Christmas with John’s family in Florida. There were aspects of his success, however, with which he was ill at ease. As a social democrat, Robert had no interest in status or class. By his early forties, he was troubled by the way prestigious autos, celebrity neighbours and the ‘right’ schools had begun to inform his family’s decisions. He had always been physically strong, but his gruelling schedule – which for years had him spending more time abroad than at home – was taking a toll on both his marriage and his health. In 2001, he left Mason’s and established his own firm.
Self employment suited Robert. His office in Dulwich Village spared him a daily commute and meant that he could hop on his bicycle and be home in a minute if the kids needed him. From the outset, he was lucky to find talented young associates whose backgrounds and skills complemented his own, notably Niuscha Bassiri, Aurelie Chelle and Abhay Gaind, who became a trusted friend. Edward Corbett, another friend who had left Masons to form his own practice, helped Robert become established and often collaborated with him. The two of them developed a seminar series on FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers) contracts and spoke all over the world. Robert edited a leading book on the subject, published in 2005.
At fifty, Robert was a leader in his field and his achievements had been recognized by legal directories, including the Who’s Who. Sadly, his professional fulfillment was not mirrored in his private life, and his health continued to decline. In 2010, his marriage ended, a shock from which his big heart was never to recover. Later that year, Robert closed his practice and withdrew from the arbitration scene where he had been so active.
In the early part of his career, Robert was involved in prominent commercial litigation in the U.K., such as Mohammed al Fayed and Tiny Rowland’s battle for control of Harrods in the late 1980s and court actions arising from the collapse of BCCI. He also acted in the Ikarian Reefer case, which contributed to reform in the use of expert witnesses. As counsel, he worked on cases over major building projects, including the Channel Tunnel, the Sandakan Water Supply in Malaysia, and the Hong Kong Strategic Sewage System. He represented BP in Pakistan; took on the Syrian National Oil Company for a Jordanian client; and headed to the Niger Delta for a dispute over a triple turbine power plant. His contract drafting paved the way for a coal project in British Columbia, a port repair job in Saudi Arabia, an oil refinery upgrade in the U.K. and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, to name but a few examples. As an arbitrator, he was known for construction disputes, but he also heard energy, telecoms, mining and shareholder cases. Robert was a member of the ICC International Court of Arbitration and ICC Commission on Arbitration for six years, playing a part in working groups that drafted the 1998 ICC arbitration rules and rules for dispute boards and ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) generally. He also co-chaired a subcommittee that came up with a model turnkey contract for major projects and was one of the few who was able to report to the court on complex construction arbitration awards, which he did with zest.
Robert is survived by his beloved children, Christopher, Anabelle, and Olivia; his parents, Carl and Doreen; his siblings, Susan, Ellen (Brian) and John (Julie); his nephews and nieces, Nicholas, Jennifer, Jillian, Zoe and Daniel; his Uncle Phil; and his cousins, Krista (Jim), Martin (Maryann) and Billy (Jane). He will also be missed and mourned by his dear friend, Jon; his former colleague, Abhay; his helper, Michael; and by friends and associates all over the world. We will remember him as earnest and irreverent, forthright and courageous, unpretentious and charitable. Above all, we will remember his wonderful humour, his unfailing generosity, and his infectious joie de vivre.
The family wishes to thank Andrea James for always lending a sympathetic ear, and the Global Arbitration Review for permission to use excerpts from their obituary published in August 2017.
We will be celebrating the life of Robert David Allan Knutson on Wednesday, August 8th at 11:30 at the Millennium Park Pavilion in Castlegar. Everyone is welcome to attend.