Obituary: Jack Burnett, travel agent who capitalised on the discovery of North Sea oil

Jack Burnett has died at the age of 80
Jack Burnett has died at the age of 80
Share this article
0
Have your say

Jack Burnett, travel agency owner. Born: 15 October, 1938 in Dundee. Died: 8 October, 2019 in Aberdeen, aged 80

Jack Burnett was a charismatic businessman who pioneered international travel services for Scotland’s fledgling energy industry and created one of the UK’s biggest independent travel agencies.

A smart operator, he quickly cottoned on to the economic benefits of organising transport for the oil and gas industry after a client told him large numbers of families would be arriving in Aberdeen every year.

“Each rig would have 40-60 personnel and it didn’t take a mathematician to calculation the business potential,” he later recalled.

In 1972 a special exploratory trip was organised for a party from Aberdeen to Houston, Texas to investigate opportunities in the energy sector and the following year, supported by a local newspaper, he introduced the first group travel package for service companies to visit the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston.

That marked the start of more than 40 years of trips to Texas in which he was instrumental in introducing north-east businesses to new markets on the world stage and which saw him become an ambassador for Aberdeen, renowned for his charm and cool-headed acumen.

Born in Dundee, John James Burnett, known as Jack, was the only son of Agnes and John Burnett, a jute mill weaver and lemonade factory worker. He won a bursary to the city’s Lawside Academy but left school at 15 to work in a copper business. However he soon realised that wasn’t for him and became a British Rail ticket clerk.

Among some of the last young men to be conscripted for National Service, he spent his two years at London’s Woolwich Barracks as a dental assistant and clerk, leaving with a couple of gold teeth he had not sported on arrival in the army.

His entry into the travel business came by chance when, while considering what to do next, a friend’s father mentioned there was a travel clerk’s post available at travel agent WB Woolley in Dundee. Around the same time he met his future wife, Margaret, on a train from Dundee to Monifeith. The couple married at the city’s St Andrews Cathedral in 1963 and two daughters and a son followed.

He joined Munro’s Tourist Agency in Aberdeen in 1969, after meeting the managing director on a business trip, and never looked back. The move coincided with the advent of the discovery of North Sea oil and over the years he capitalised on the find, his work being recognised by the Mayor of Houston, and, in 2003, by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair who wrote to him saying he was delighted that Munro’s had helped to ensure a large UK presence at OTC, the world’s leading energy show.

By this time Burnett was in his 60s but when his partners retired he decided to take on sole ownership of Munro’s, supported by his wife and their son Murray. His daughter Jackie also worked for the business for several years as an HR consultant.

Always an optimist, he was well-liked and admired in the business world and in 2013 Aberdeen’s Lord Provost presented him with a gift from the city to honour his 40 years’ service to the business community.

During that period he had also organised rugby trips from Aberdeen to Dublin and Paris, enjoying the company and banter of the fans. Beyond the commercial sphere he was a keen golfer, supporter of Dundee FC and enthusiastic guitar player, often entertaining friends and family. Also an accomplished snooker player since his youth, he played in the premier league for the British Legion in Aberdeen, once giving a young Jimmy White a run for his money in a charity match with an opening break of 40.

And his golfing skills were well utilised when, ahead of a holiday to Orlando, the hotel manager instructed him to bring his clubs so he could replace him in a tournament. Burnett duly obliged and it turned out to be the Walt Disney World Pro-Am where he found himself playing with US pro golfers Craig Stadler and Lon Hinkle, while Jack Nicklaus teed off in front with Arnold Palmer coming up behind. He was heartily relieved when, in front of huge crowds, he overcame his uncharacteristic nerves to tee off with a shot straight down the middle of the fairway.

His is survived by his wife Margaret, daughters Jackie and Paula, son Murray and eight grandchildren.

ALISON SHAW