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ICE past president Sir Kirby Laing dies

Sir William Kirby Laing, past-president of the ICE and fourth generation of his family to run John Laing, died on 12 April aged 92.

Laing, known as ‘Kirby’ was born in Carlisle on 21 July 1916 and studied at Emmanuel College Cambridge before joining the family firm under his father as a graduate engineer in 1937.

Kirby became the fourth generation of his family to join the firm - his father was Sir John Laing, and his grandfather was John Laing who gave the company its name, while his great grandfather was James Laing who started the firm by building a house on a £30 plot of land near Cumberland in 1848. James Laing’s father David had also been a builder.

Kirby enlisted during the Second World War, serving in the Royal Engineers and rising to Second Lieutenant. He remained as part of the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers until 1955, but was permitted to retain the honorary title of Lieutenant.

Kirby returned to the army in 1966, serving in the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps which advises the army on engineering matter.

He returned to the family business and became joint managing director of John Laing in 1946, rising to chairman from 1956 to 1976.

In 1973-1974 Kirby was the 109th president of the ICE, and has been made an honorary member of the American Association of Civil Engineers.

Kirby was succeeded by his younger brother Maurice as chairman of Laing in 1976, when Kirby stepped down to become deputy chairman.

Under the leadership of Kirby and his brother Maurice John Laing expanded rapidy and was involved in many of the nation’s key structures.

They built buildings as diverse as Windscale and Berkeley nuclear power stations, the new Coventry Cathedral, Glasgow and Pretwick airports in addition to considerable house building and coal mining.

John Laing also diversified into road building and completed the first section of the M1 motorway, connecting Watford and Rugby in 1959.

Kirby retired as deputy chairman of John Laing in 1980, but his son Martin Laing led the company until 2001, becoming the fifth generation of the Laing family to do so.

Laing was knighted in 1968 and continued to work in public posts alongside the family business, attaining the posts of Deputy Lieutenant of London in 1978 and Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire in 1987.

He also founded the Kirby Laing Foundation which makes donations to charitable causes, including Marie Curie Cancer Care and the National Homeless Alliance.

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