I was recently asked to help out at a celebratory 50-year service lunch at Allan Brothers. Wow, I thought. That knocks my three years into a ‘cocked hat’.
A number of companies these days don’t stay in business for 50 years, let alone employ staff for that length of time. To put things into perspective, timber window and door makers Allan Brothers have been trading for 203 years, so Benny McLaughlan has been part of the business for almost a quarter of the company’s life. Something the management felt we should celebrate and honour. So a number of people around the business had a hand in putting together a lunchtime celebration.
A buffet lunch was prepared and laid out in the boardroom, a present was bought and a card was passed around the whole site to capture the good wishes and cheeky comments from us all.
When everything was ready and I stood waiting for the 15 guests and Benny himself to arrive, I wondered what he was like as our paths had never crossed in the past three years. I imagined an elderly man, a little frail and quite honestly ready to retire. Oh, how wrong I was! I was introduced to a tall, lean man who could easily pass for 10 years his junior. His kind, quiet manner belied the keen sense of humour and self-assurance of a man who knows his trade.
The lunch was a lively, jolly affair, with everyone swapping stories and memories of the past. It was obvious listening to the banter that Benny is a character, regarded with affection and respect by his colleagues. Danny Hughes (Allan Brothers MD) made a presentation, congratulated Benny on his length of service and thanked him for his continued hard work and commitment to the business.
At the end of the lunch, when the last of the guests left, I sat and chatted to Benny about his career with Allan Brothers, and I asked him to tell me about himself. “Not much to tell really,” said this lovely, humble man. But as he spoke I could see his eyes come alive with memories of a lifetime spent learning and plying his trade amongst friends and colleagues he’s known all his life.
On probing a little further I learned that he started work with Allan Brothers on April 5, 1964 at the age of 15 as a post boy, where his duties included writing out time-cards and bills, laying out newspapers for the managers each morning and basically anything else that was asked of him. When he was 16 years old he embarked on an apprenticeship as a wood- cutting machinist, which was to shape his future career.
During his apprenticeship he was also responsible for paying in the weekly takings at the bank, which involved him cycling from Tweedmouth to Berwick on the works bike. One week, however, he arrived at the bank to discover that he had lost the £40 takings. This was a lot of money 50 years ago. He was mortified; he searched his bike but the money was gone.
Imagine Benny’s despair. He knew he had to cycle back and face the music. With a heavy heart he cycled back across the old bridge. However, halfway across, Mr Howe the road sweeper called to him and asked whether he had lost anything. Benny said he had and Mr Howe handed him the package containing the £40, which he had seen fall from the bike earlier. Needless to say Benny was very grateful, and 50 years on I could see that he was still touched by Mr Howe’s kindness and honesty.
Benny completed his apprenticeship in 1969 and over time has been trained and taught others to use the wood- cutting machines within the factory. He married in 1975 and he and his wife have three sons – two of whom have worked at Allan Brothers. He now has three lively grandchildren, a great reason to keep himself fit with challenging long walks both in the UK and abroad.
When I sat back and reflected on the day, I was quite proud to have played a very small part in this very special lunch. It was an event that the management – Danny Hughes, David Leadley, John Farish and Robert Frost – were keen to host; it was a fitting tribute to a very decent man.
○Vanessa Ginn is marketing consultant at Allan Brothers Ltd in Tweedmouth.