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Obituary of Allan Arthur Gilbert: Management consultant, Emerson executive

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 3, 2009 - Allan Arthur Gilbert, a management consultant and human resources executive who was part of the reason that two companies led by two men named Knight became so successful, died March 25 in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. Mr. Gilbert, who died of respiratory complications, was 84. A long-time St. Louisan, Mr. Gilbert had been living in Cortlandt Manor for the past eight years.

Mr. Gilbert was a management consultant for Lester B. Knight & Associates. Time magazine once called the firm's founder "one of the premier management consultants in Chicago." Mr. Gilbert was subsequently recruited to work in St. Louis by Lester Knight's son, Charles F. "Chuck" Knight, Emerson Electric's former chief executive. The younger Knight had left his father's company to join Emerson, a Knight & Associates client.

In a statement, Emerson Senior Executive Vice President Charles A. "Charlie" Peters said Mr. Gilbert helped to make Emerson a premier enterprise as well.

"People who really understand Emerson and our progress from a billion-dollar company in the 1970s to today's $20-plus-billion global enterprise, realize that we depend on the depth and skill of our organization and its continuity," Peters said. "Allan Gilbert pioneered the manpower planning function at Emerson, and along with Chuck Knight, made it distinctive and a focal point of Emerson's management approach."

Mr. Gilbert began his career as a housewares buyer for Carson Pirie Scott department store in his native Chicago. It was a slight and only temporary diversion from his early career goal of working directly with people. His next position was management consultant for the nationally prominent Chicago firm of George Fry and Associates.

After leaving Fry, he joined Lester B. Knight & Associates. He went on to become chief executive officer of Fisher Radio Corp., a New York City-based company that developed state-of-the-art audio systems. Mr. Gilbert spent the last 14 years of his career as vice president of manpower development at Emerson in St. Louis.

"He loved working for Emerson; it's when he really began to enjoy his work life," said Mr. Gilbert's daughter Debora Gilbert Ryan. "He loved finding talent and mentoring people. He was still talking this year about how proud he was of Charlie (Peters)."

The admiration was mutual.

"Allan reached out to us in such a thoughtful and caring manner that you soon realized how he provided a valuable link to the highest level of the company," Peters said. "He enhanced the (human resources) role by taking a personal interest in and constantly engaging our managers; listening to their aspirations, providing mature counseling and seeing that Emerson offered them the right opportunities.

""He was simply a true and loyal friend," Peters said.

Mr. Gilbert was a longtime member of two diverse groups: the Society of Colonial Wars, which pays homage to the founders of the 13 original colonies, and the Conference Board, a business management organization. He was also generous with his time and gifts to many local groups. Following his retirement from Emerson in 1990, Mr. Gilbert remained in St. Louis until 2001, volunteering his services to several organizations, including Washington University and Dance St. Louis.

Mr. Gilbert showed an early propensity for leadership. As a young adult, he and boyhood friends bought Camp Owakonze, a youth adventure summer camp in Chicago that provided portaging from lake to lake in the Ontario, Canada, wilderness. He helped to ensure that boys and girls could continue to enjoy month-long camping and canoe trips on Hudson Bay, just as he and his friends had done when they were children.

He had, in fact, always been happiest when he was outdoors and he shared that love and appreciation of nature with his three children.

"He was really great about taking us on adventures: walks on Lake Michigan, trips to Cape Cod and Canada," his daughter, Debora said. "He cared about enriching our childhood and opening up our world. I have wonderful memories of those trips."

Mr. Gilbert grew up in the Chicago suburb of Kenilworth, where he played high school football and was confirmed in the Kenilworth Union Church.

During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and saw action in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and the first battle in which Japanese aircraft carried out organized kamikaze attacks. He attained the rank of lieutenant, junior grade.

He met his future wife, Gwendolyn Moore, who was from Wichita, Kan., shortly after World War II while the two were taking part in a wedding. She was a bridesmaid; he was an usher for the groom. They were married in 1950 and remained so until her death in 2004.

Following his military service, Mr. Gilbert earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School.

Mr. Gilbert was a tennis player, gardener and inveterate traveler, including Egypt and Europe in his trips abroad.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Gilbert was preceded in death by his parents, Allan Thurston Gilbert and Elizabeth Boyce Gilbert; a brother, Leonard Boyce Gilbert, and a sister, Helen Gilbert Williams.

In addition to his daughter Debora Gilbert Ryan (Michael), of Brooklyn, N.Y., he is survived by another daughter, Elizabeth Gilbert, of Dedham, Mass.; a son, Allan Moore (Elisabeth) Gilbert of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., and two grandchildren, Tyler Clark Gilbert and Allan Moore Gilbert. He is also survived by one sister, Elisabeth Leonard of Philadelphia; a sister-in-law, Gerri Gilbert, of Northfield, Ill., and a brother-in-law, John Williams, of the Chicago North Shore area.

A memorial service in the Chicago area is being planned.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.

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