It is with unbelievable sadness that we announce the death of Stuart Ross, Director of News at TfL.
Stuart was one of the first press officers we found ourselves working closely with here at LR Towers. To begin with this was simply due to his beat – at the time he was covering London Underground press within TfL. He was also one of the first to support us wholeheartedly in what we were doing and would patiently hunt down obscure answers and documents, and set up interviews and site visits which at the time our readership levels meant we had no real right to demand.
“I don’t mind what you write,” I still remember him telling me once in the early days, whilst handing over some documents on upgrade progress which he knew we’d be critical of, “just as long as it’s accurate and honest.”
That expectation of honesty and accuracy goes a long way to summing up what Stuart’s approach to PR was like. Just as much as he expected it from the coverage that we – and other media sources – provided, he also expected it from within TfL itself.
Indeed for a while something of a guilty pleasure for me was watching Stuart at TfL press events. His knowledge of the Underground and its systems, built up over many years at TfL, could sometimes rival that of its engineers and senior managers. Watching Stuart alternately become subtly tenser or calmer based on the technical accuracy (or implications) of the comments his ostensibly expert charges were relating to the assembled journalistic masses was always entertaining.
I particularly remember one time when he caught me doing this during an event at which the current Mayor was present. In full flight the Mayor accidentally disclosed a contractually sensitive piece of information, something luckily (for TfL) not picked up on as important by the assembled general press.
As his expression got stonier we somehow caught each others’ eyes. I raised an eyebrow, he subtly nodded a negative. Then amidst the general bustle afterwards he appeared at my shoulder.
“Yes I know.” He said, before I could say anything. “I understand if you want to run it now, but if you let me try and clear it first I’ll see if I can get you more than just that in return.”
I was more than happy to trust him, and a day later he was as good as his word. Just as he always was.
Stuart’s trust – both the giving and receiving of it – was something upon which we placed great value here at LR Towers. We have always believed wholeheartedly in writing articles that are thorough, not fast, and this was something that Stuart went out of his way to help us do. Whether it was through securing embargoed copies of sensitive documents often well ahead of time, or simply through not asking too many questions about how we occasionally seemed to still know – in detail – what they contained when he couldn’t.
It was at the end, as it had been at the beginning – he didn’t mind what we wrote, as long as it was accurate.
Stuart passed away from cancer aged just 42. His wife, daughter and friends are not alone in mourning his passing. His tragically early death has robbed London, and the worlds of both PR and transport, of a man who genuinely cared about his job and this city. More than almost anyone I have ever met, he also recognised the importance of truth and integrity in the service of all three – service that, through his crisis communications role at TfL during 7/7 – encompassed some of the darkest times this city has known since WW2.
“London’s transport, and Londoners, if they knew it, had a defender of deep integrity.” Sir Peter Hendy is quoted as saying over on Ross Lydall’s own obituary for Stuart. “His tragically early death robs us of what he might of achieved, but makes us all thankful of what he did do.”
We – and I – could not agree more. It was an honour to know him.