Robert E. Gallagher, chairman of the board of Arthur J. Gallagher & Company, died last week after a brief illness. He was 83.

Mr. Gallagher joined his father’s insurance agency in 1947 after graduating from Cornell University, working alongside his brothers John and Jim. He was instrumental in building the Itasca, Ill.-based insurance brokerage into a billion-dollar global enterprise, the brokerage said.

In 1963, he was named president and chief executive officer of Gallagher. The company went public in 1984, and in 1990, Mr. Gallagher was elected chairman. He continued to serve as CEO until 1995 and remained chairman until his death.

J. Patrick Gallagher Jr., the company’s president and CEO, and a nephew of the chairman, said: “My Uncle Bob was a true leader and an inspiration both to his peers and the two generations of professionals who have followed him into this business.”

He continued that his uncle “was the center of the heart and soul of this company, which he loved deeply…His wit, intuition and knowledge of our industry were unparalleled. He will be deeply missed by everyone in our organization. We are extremely proud of his accomplishments and will work diligently to ensure that his legacy lives on.”

During his career, Robert E. Gallagher served as director and president of the Insurance Institute of America, and in 2001 he was named Insurance Industry Charitable Fund Man of the Year.

In 1994 he and his wife, Isabel, established and endowed The Gallagher Scholars Program through the Big Shoulders Fund, which annually helps fund Catholic school tuition for approximately 400 inner-city elementary and secondary students.

Mr. Gallagher, who lived in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, is survived by his wife, four children, 14 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.