Almost 600 people gathered at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, this morning to celebrate the life of Lord Marshall, former chief executive and then chairman of British Airways.

His daughter, the Hon Anna Birkett, said that before he died in July he had delivered a very clear message about what sort of service it should be: “Whatever you do don’t make it a gloomy memorial. Make it a thanksgiving and try to be cheerful about it.”

And so it proved. In her address Mrs Birkett, said her father had “a life lived to the full from start to finish” and, explaining the choice of “Eternal Father, strong to save” as the first hymn, she said it was the song her parents used to sing when they were in the merchant navy together.

DeAnne Julius, a former chief economist with BA, paid tribute to Lord Marshall’s championing of women in business, recalling the time he surveyed the assembled sea of grey-haired men at one meeting of the company’s top 100 managers and asked: “Where are all the women?”

She also recalled his ‘Putting people first’ campaign, which transformed the service levels offered by the airline. “He led by example not exhortation and he really did put people first,” she added.

Lord Saatchi, co-founder of Saatchi and Saatchi – the agency that created the seminal ‘World’s favourite airline’ advertising – told the story of the love match that was Colin Marshall’s marriage to Janet Cracknell.

He recalled how the couple met on a ship of the Orient Steam Navigation Line in 1956 when the 23-year-old Colin Marshall was deputy purser and Janet joined as assistant purser. His first words to her were: “Do you have a uniform, there’s work to do.” But their working relationship soon blossomed into love and their marriage lasted until the day he died.

BA was represented at the service by chairman Sir Martin Broughton, chief executive Keith Williams and chief of staff Alan Buchanan. IAG chief executive Willie Walsh, himself a former chief executive of BA, was also present.

Former BA colleagues in attendance included Mike Street OBE, a former director of customer service and operations with BA – who read the First Reading – Lloyd Cromwell Griffiths, a former director of flight operations, and Mike Bannister former chief pilot of the Concorde fleet.

Chief executive Keith Williams praised the thanksgiving service for highlighting “the interests he had in life, the variety of his work and his promotion of women.” He added: “Colin did it all in a quiet and very efficient way.”

Lord Marshall’s former special assistant Tony Cocklin, who was one of the organisers of the event, said: “We had a tremendous response and it was a magnificent tribute to Lord Marshall. So many people came from his various walks of life – personal, social and professional – as well as people from overseas.”