Robyn Jones: tributes flood in for caterer described by peers as ‘trailblazing inspiration'

28 September 2015 by
Robyn Jones: tributes flood in for caterer described by peers as ‘trailblazing inspiration'

Tributes have poured in for CH&CO founder Robyn Jones OBE, who passed away at her home last week following a long illness. She was 54.

CH&Co chairman Tim Jones led the tributes, describing his wife as "the inspiration, the drive, the attention to detail, the creativity, the innovation, the motivation… everything really".

A highly respected figure, she continued to be actively involved in many aspects of the company as well as the wider industry, despite her illness, until very recently.

Jones founded Charlton House, as it was then called, in 1991 from the back bedroom of her house. In the following years, she and her husband Tim, who joined as chairman in 2000, built it up to be one of the largest independent foodservice companies in the UK, with an annual turnover of £120m.

Earlier this year, Robyn and Tim Jones merged their company with Host Catermasters, retaining the CH&Co name, with Tim becoming chairman of the new company and Robyn remaining as founder.

Jones won a host of personal accolades throughout her career, including a Catey. In 2011 she was awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours. She also took an active role in many charities and industry organisations.

Jones is survived by her husband Tim and their children Tabitha and Blake.


"We have had such a difficult time during these last six months and now, I still can't believe that Robyn has gone.

"Many people used to ask me how I could work with my wife knowing that if they tried it, the divorce courts would soon be beckoning. For us it became the most natural thing in the world. We had a shared love of service and success that drove us to achieve what we did. Robyn would often tell me that she could never have done it without me, that we were a true partnership. We were, but the simple truth is that without her, there would have been nothing. She was the inspiration, the drive, the attention to detail, the creativity, the innovation, the motivation, everything really.

"Throughout my time in the catering industry I have never come across anyone with the same attention to detail that she had. She would see things that others simply wouldn't and then not be slow in getting on to put matters right, however small. This drive for perfection was one of her most endearing qualities.

"When people talk of Robyn, it is understandably as a business woman but we should never forget how important her family and friends were to her. Her warm caring nature always ensuring that she put others before herself. Many will also remember her for her jovial banter as she had a tremendous quick witted sense of humour which helped her make light of the many adversities she faced right up until the end." Tim Jones, chairman, CH&CO Group

"Robyn was an outstanding operator who founded her business during what turned out to be an entrepreneurial period for the sector. She inspired many to have the courage to go it alone too. She was an inspiration not only as a leading caterer, but, in those early days, as a woman working in a male-dominated world. She showed working mums that they could have it all juggling family life with a rewarding career. For a petite lady, she will leave a huge hole in our collective hearts." Amanda Afiya, editor, The Caterer

"Robyn was a real inspiration and trailblazer for businesswomen in contract catering. She started the company in an era when it was unknown, building from nothing to a substantial business, all on her own efforts. Robyn will be missed in the industry because she gave so much back, which was something she really loved. It is so very, very sad. I used to like meeting Robyn because when she smiled her face completely lit up." Wendy Bartlett, chief executive, Bartlett Mitchell

"Robyn and I started our businesses in 1991. We both worked from home; Robyn using her famous wallpaper pasting table as a desk in her spare bedroom while I worked from the small back bedroom of our house in The Midlands at the time. We both applied for the £40 Government Enterprise Allowance to fund our fledgling business. We both had two children of similar ages but here's where the similarities end. What I lacked, she had in abundance - determination, tenacity, but most of all, courage. As her PR from 2000 until 2011, I was close enough to see Robyn's incredible strength, her thoughtfulness and sense of fair play, first-hand. Robyn was a lady. She was brave, fair and true. The world is a lesser place without her." Patricia Atkinson, director, Copylines PR

William Baxter, chairman, Hospitality Action

"Robyn was an inspiring woman to work for. Her vision, determination, style and guidance helped me and many others develop our careers in more ways than we could have imagined. She was always a firm believer in the abilities of her people and her legacy continues in CH&Co Group. We will miss her enormously." Caroline Fry, deputy group chief executive, CH&Co Group

"Through my career I have read and watched with awe the way in which Robyndeveloped her business and her team. We are so honoured to have had such an inspirational and iconic woman within our industry, with such a passion for food, people and creativity ensuring her legacy will live on forever. Always smiling and so giving." Stephanie Hamilton, managing director, ISS Food & Hospitality

"Robyn was one of the first industry people I met when I joined The Caterer a decade ago. Over lunch at a Charlton House client site, she patiently explained to me the vagaries of discounting and subsidies, and we forged a lasting friendship, one that I have always valued. I always admired Robyn's determination, her defiance, her sense of humour and her good heart. She was a much-loved and respected role model in the industry for which she worked so hard." Mark Lewis, publisher, The Caterer

"I first met Robyn in 2002 at a site visit and she scared the hell out of me. I told her so and she smiled replying how she was pleased to have made such an impact! Since that first meeting I grew extremely fond of Robyn, which can be a challenging sentiment when her business, alongside Tim, became such a formidable competitor. My lasting memories of Robyn will be her wicked sense of humour, her dignity and humility and her insistence at calling me Mr Irish. You will be treasured and missed in equal part Robyn." Noel Mahony, co-chief executive, BaxterStorey

"Robyn was a consummate professional whose passion for her clients and her colleagues always came through so clearly from her whenever we were competing with CH&Co. Robyn was a formidable competitor for whom I had the greatest respect. She and Tim quietly went about building and growing their business and I think were great role models for anyone wanting to establish their own business." Andrew Main, chief executive, Aramark

"I first met Robyn on the same day that we both met the Queen - two awesome and brilliant women! Robyn was a true professional with such tremendous enthusiasm for our industry. She was positive, genuine, terrific fun and always made me laugh. Such a loss." Kate Martin, managing partner, Brookwood Partnership

"Robyn was an absolute inspiration to not only the industry but particularly to those of us starting up our own businesses in this sector. She surrounded herself with a fabulous team and truly created a company that delivered at the highest level. My favourite memory is at a lunch with her at Heston Blumenthal's Hinds Head in Bray where we giggled non-stop and were slightly silly to say the least. She will be a huge loss to the industry and in my opinion cannot be replaced." Mark Philpott, owner-managing director, Vacherin

"Robyn was always an inspiration and role model for women like me in our industry; a person who cared passionately about the business and particularly the people within it. Her achievements were numerous but the creation, with Tim, of a successful and enduring business that has provided employment for many is her greatest legacy. She will be missed but never forgotten." Catherine Roe, chief executive, Elior

"Robyn was a very private person who could be uncompromisingly clear in driving her business forward. These two traits sometimes masked her warmth and humour. When relaxed and among friends she was fun and great company, which is probably my real memory of her, tinged with a massive respect for the way she ran her business and was never less than completely clear about her direction and code of ethics. She was an outstanding human being, both personally and professionally. The world is a worse place without Robyn." Chris Stern, managing director, Stern Consultancy

"The impact Robyn had on the industry, her colleagues and clients was clear. She was an inspiration and acted as a true figurehead, especially for women in the industry." Sue Thompson, operations director, Restaurant Associates

"Robyn was truly indomitable, never letting anything get in her way. Not only did she develop a wonderful company that was well known for its exacting food, standards and service, she developed a skilled team who have all gained significantly from her leadership. She will be hugely missed." Bill Toner, chief executive, CH&Co Group

"Robyn was an immensely special person and a huge loss to the hospitality sector. She was an ambassador for our industry, an ambassador for her company but most of all, she was an ambassador for family life and strong family values." Andrew Wilson & Carolyne Vale, co-founders, Wilson Vale

Robyn Jones OBE Memorial Service

The Jones family has announced that a Memorial Service to celebrate the life of Robyn Jones will be held at 12.30pm on Thursday 1 October at St Mary's Church in Hart Street, Henley on Thames.
Full details can be found on the company's website.

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