The past few months at Robert Gerrard have certainly been cause for celebration. Our shortlisting in the Broker Networker independent broker of the year award; the firm’s 40-years-in-business anniversary, mine and Scott’s 30 years’ here and, most recently on 12th January 2017, Keith Bacon’s three decades in service at Robert Gerrard.
And it is my oracle of information himself, Keith Bacon, aka Smokey and various other nicknames to which stories are attached and will be mentioned later on, who forms the subject of this blog, because on Friday 27th January 2017, the great man took his retirement.
Whilst we all do of course wish Keith the very best for his new found freedom, his leaving is tinged with sadness. Keith is like a father figure to me personally and a great friend to so many others who’ve had the pleasure of working with him over the years.
The messages that poured in from his clients, some of whom Keith had been taking care of since the very start of his career with us, were very touching.
The Good Old Docker Days
Keith and my dad, Keith Townsend, first met as teenagers working in the docks. They struck up an instant bond as friends and it was inevitable that they would continue to play a big part in each other’s lives. In fact, our families became intertwined, with Keith taking on the role of Godfather to me. Dad and Keith even had an arrangement whereby they would share ‘hours’; they would carry out jobs for each other, like decorating and babysitting, and keep a tab on who owed who what time wise. A fair deal I thought.
Keith (Bacon) had worked the docks since he was a young lad, and recalls his very early days queuing from the crack of dawn to see if there was any work in the offing. When there wasn’t, five bob was his compensation for taking to time to turn up. Keith says at least there was something, “better than today’s zero hours contracts!”
From the docks Keith went to work for British Waterways, where he spent 30 years. Dad had been running Robert Gerrard for 10 years when Keith decided to move on from his water based career, and he was welcomed with open arms into the company. It was quite a change for Keith, not least from shipping to insurance, but working just a couple of minutes from his home and having a stable 9 to 5 regime was quite far removed from his days of living and working away, keeping irregular hours and considering it a treat to see his family.
“I first worked with Keith Bacon for the PLA in 1957, when he was a 16 year old junior and over the years rose to the Dock Masters office. For me the last 60 years associated with him has been a great pleasure both at work and play.” Keith Townsend.
Starting the Day with Fizz
On his first day at Robert Gerrard, Keith walked into Dad’s office, only to find him about to pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne. Now 9am it may have been, but there was a good excuse – it was Dad’s 50th birthday! 30 years to the day later, Keith repeated the gesture, well in as far as the bottle of Champagne anyway – we did at least wait until midday to crack it open this time – definitely not as hard core as the two Keiths were back in the day.
As mentioned in our anniversary blog, it was Dad and Keith Bacon who created Lift Plan in response to a problem faced by a friend, Derek Lycett. Derek was a lift manufacturer who would often relay tales of woe about how difficult his lift engineer customers found it to get liability cover. So the two Keiths set about looking for a solution, and the rest is history. Derek’s family is still running the company to this day, and Robert Gerrard as a company clings closely to the value of doing whatever it can to resolve issues and find solutions for its clients. That’s why, Keith says, the company has grown through word of mouth and personal service.
Messages from Friends
Keith also said in the anniversary blog that he loves his work and that he made lots of friends along the way. Here’s what some of his longstanding clients had to say:
“It has always been an absolute pleasure doing business with you, you have been like an old friend to us for well over thirty years. Thank you for everything you have done for us over the years, we really appreciate it, and wish you a long, healthy and enjoyable retirement.” Rob Trollope, Astro Communications Ltd
“That’s a shame Keith retiring, I’ve enjoyed working with him over the years and he earned my respect from day one. He’s a lovely man and one of life’s true gents and I wish him well.” Gary Spillane
“Keith Bacon looked after us all at Acre Lifts for a good number of years, he went by the name of Smokey!! Good luck Smokey, have a great retirement.” Gordon Wheeler
Smokey was a favourite moniker used to nick name Keith. Obviously associated with his surname, it was not by any means his one and only. Having worked a Saturday job for a butcher’s as a very young teenager, Keith had been exposed to East End back slang, a secret code developed in the 20th century to allow shopkeepers to tell their assistants to bring the oldest pieces of meat out for customers they didn’t favour.
The general rule with back slang was to reverse the lettering, although sometimes extra vowels were added in, which was the case with ‘old’ which in back slang is ‘dillo’ or ‘dello’. So take care if you hear it spoken when being served by an East End butcher!
Getting back on point, Keith’s back slang nick name was ‘Nocab’. Over the years this was shortened to ‘Nokes’, which is how my brother Scott addresses him. Keith even used ‘Nokes’ to name his house, although his wife insisted on a more upmarket version that had a something of a country feel to match their cottage, so Noakes Cottage the home was christened.
So What Now for Keith Bacon, Retired?
Aside from extending his stints in Portugal so he can spend more time with his family who live there, and maybe – just maybe – backing a ‘few more winners’, Keith intends to further step up his charitable work. He’s never been short of things to do in this respect. Through his masonic connections he’s regularly supporting the Scouts, children’s hospices, a youth dance school and the Rotary Club audio newspaper for the vision impaired, as well as his local church for which he and his fellow masons raised funds to replace their ailing bell – for an electronic model!
“Well it’s far less maintenance, and it sounds pretty much like the real thing!” he laughs.
Keith says it’s technology that heralded the biggest changes he can recollect during his time at Robert Gerrard. “We went from carbon paper and memos in the 1980s to faxes and computers in the early 90s and then, more recently, a paperless office,” he recalls.
But one thing Keith has always believed in is embracing change. He always gave everything new a chance without question, and has such a positive attitude. This is something that everyone who comes to know him always comments on.
Keith says he’ll never fully detach from Robert Gerrard, which is good news for his colleagues. After all, how could we ever do without that infectious laugh? That always-happy demeanour and that wise advice?
A Final Word from Keith
“I may not be bonded by blood to the people I’ve worked with at Robert Gerrard for the past 30 years, and those I’ve known even longer, but I still consider them my family. I’ve been so touched by all the wonderful messages from colleagues and clients. Thank you everyone.”
And for the Next Generation…
“If you’re thinking of going into insurance, or any career for that matter, always apply common sense to every situation you find yourself in. Make sure you know what your client wants and needs. Choose something that interests you so that you can put passion into it. Decide what it is you want to do, then embrace that choice completely.
“Insurance is an interesting line of work. You get the chance to help people and make a difference. If that’s what you are going into, if you can, try and get into a local firm. You’ll learn everything that way, from making a decent cup of tea upwards. And as long as you can get the tea right, you should be set up well for the future.”