Tributes have poured in to a Scots designer headhunted by the Queen to oversee the modernisation of the Palace of Holyroodhouse who has been killed in a cycling accident in London.
Moira Gemmill, who had also held the position of head of design at the Victoria and Albert museum in the UK capital for more than a decades, died when her bike was hit by a tipper lorry on her commute to work at St James’s Palace on Thursday.
“Our thoughts are with Moira’s family and friends”Glasgow School of Art spokesman
The Kintyre-born designer, 55, who had taken up her new role with the Royal Collections Trust earlier this year, was described as “one of the brightest and best” of the British art world by her devastated family and friends.
A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, specialising in graphic design and photography, Ms Gemmill began her career as an illustrator on a technical magazine for the offshore oil industry in Aberdeen – a job she described in a 2009 interview in The Scotsman as “excruciatingly boring” – before moving to the Aberdeen Art Gallery.
She later relocated to London, where she took up a position at the British Museum. Her subsequent role at the V&A saw her lead the £120 million FuturePlan project to transform the museum’s public galleries and facilities.
Her brother Andrew, 59, said: “She was a wonderful, inspirational woman. She was absolutely extraordinary but in a very modest way. She lived a modest life. She was very excited about her new post, we all were.”
A spokesman for the Glasgow School of Art, from where Ms Gemmill graduated in the 1980s, added: “Our thoughts are with Moira’s family and friends at this very difficult time.”
Ms Gemmill grew up in a farming family which had strong links to the art world via an artistic grandmother and aunt.
Sir Mark Jones, the former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, described Ms Gemmill as “a really exceptional person” and said her death was “a terrible loss”.
He said: “She was one of the brightest and best people in the world of art and design, much liked and respected by all the many architects and designers she worked with and loved by her colleagues and friends in the V&A and elsewhere.”
After 13 years at the V&A, Ms Gemmill was in January appointed as director of capital programmes at the Royal Collection Trust, which included carrying out major modernisation projects at Holyroodhouse, as well as at Windsor Palace in London.
Her work at the V&A sparked a rise in annual visitor numbers from 900,000 to 2.9 million, while her projects received numerous awards from the design and architecture sector.
The accident took place at a roundabout close to Lambeth Bridge – which was has been the subject of controversy after Transport for London abandoned plans to redesign the junction, condemned by cycling campaigners as a “notorious blackspot”.
Ms Gemmill is the fifth cyclist to be killed on London’s roads this year – all involving HGVs. The lorry driver was questioned but has not been arrested. Jonathan Marsden, director of the Royal Collection Trust, said: “We are deeply saddened and shocked by this tragic news. In her very short time with us as director of capital programmes, Moira had become both a good friend and a highly respected colleague, and we shall miss her very greatly.”
In 2011, Ms Gemmill was made an honorary fellow of the Riba – the professional body for architects. She was also a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.