Robb, John Hanna (1873–1956), politician and barrister, was born 4 November 1873 in Clogher, Co. Tyrone, second son among ten children of the Rev. James Gardner Robb (d. 1891), presbyterian minister, and Martha Robb (née Hanna). As a child he spent five years in Toronto, Canada, when his father took up a ministry there, but the family returned to Galway while Robb was still young. He attended the RBAI, retaining close links with the school throughout his life. In 1910 he co-wrote a centenary history of RBAI with J. R. Fisher (qv) and in 1933 presented the Robb Cup to the school to encourage athletics. He was an accomplished athlete, representing Ireland in the 100-yard dash.
He was a Sullivan and Foundation scholar at QCB, graduating (1896) in history, political economy, and jurisprudence. He was called to the bar in 1898, practised on the north-eastern circuit, and published a book on bankruptcy law (1907). In 1921 he became a QC and an MP for Queen's University in the Northern Ireland parliament. He was appointed chairman of the committee on the cost of living (1922) and chairman of the committee on bankruptcy law reform (1927). In 1925 he became parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Education. He was the ministry's spokesperson in the house of commons from 1925 to 1937, when he succeeded Lord Charlemont (qv) in the positions of minister of education and leader of the senate.
Ministers of education in Northern Ireland had tended to come from the liberal wing of the Unionist Party, and Robb continued this trend. In 1932 and 1942 he defended, with varied success, the teaching of Irish in schools. In 1935 and 1939 he vainly urged cabinet to increase state funding to transferred schools, but also to voluntary schools; most catholics attended voluntary schools. He resisted lobbying from protestant pressure groups who sought increased religious teaching in schools, and in 1938 he introduced an education act which increased the school-leaving age. He was a competent rather than an exciting politician. Nationalists regarded him as fair, but felt that too often he failed to resist pressures from those less committed to equity.
He was replaced by Robert Corkey (qv) when Sir Basil Brooke (qv) was appointed prime minister in 1943. He became county court judge for Armagh and Fermanagh (1943–54), having been father of the Northern Ireland bar (1939–43). He married Emily Ritchie, Belfast, and they had one daughter. He died 21 June 1956 at his home, 6 Deramore Park, Belfast, having suffered a heart attack some weeks earlier.