Dungog's Ron Kennedy has been a plumber for 70 years and still loves his work

Still busy: Ron Kennedy has been a plumber for 70 years and is still on call. Picture: Michelle Mexon
Still busy: Ron Kennedy has been a plumber for 70 years and is still on call. Picture: Michelle Mexon

Each of the seven apprentices Dungog plumber Ron Kennedy has trained have all now retired.

But not Ron.

With 70 years in the trade - and several years left to go on his plumber's licence - Ron has no plans to hang up the tools just yet.

"The town won't let me," laughed the spirited 85-year-old.

"They keep ringing me to do jobs."

As an indication of just how long he's been in the game, his clients now span three generations. His licence number is L126 - with new plumbers now carrying numbers up into the hundreds of thousands.

Ron started his apprenticeship aged "14 and 11 and a half months" in 1951 when Bill McDonald came around to the family home just before Christmas. Knowing Ron was leaving school following his Intermediate Certificate, Mr McDonald offered him an apprenticeship in a trade he hadn't previously considered.

"I probably would've been a carpenter as I liked making things with my hands," he said.

I probably would've been a carpenter as I liked making things

Ron Kennedy

With no high school in the town at the time, Ron had a long day commuting to Maitland Boys High School via train from Dungog leaving home at 7am and returning at 6pm. Work life proved no easier with pick and shovel used to dig the trenches.

"My first two days of work were at Peter Ryan's property," he said. I can remember everything as clear as day as it involved pulling down a windmill, which was probably the only windmill I've every worked on in my life."

He proudly shows off a feature in the Dungog Chronicle from August 2001 when his company, Ron Kennedy Plumbing, had reached the milestone of 55 years in business.

The business was started in April 1946 by Bill McDonald and Joe Turk.

"They were like fathers to me," said Ron.

"They were terrific."

When the McDonalds moved to Newcastle in 1965, Ron took over Bill's share of the business. When Joe Turk retired a few years later and moved to Broadbeach, Ron and his first wife Shirley (who passed away in 2000 on the opening night of the Sydney Olympics) continued to run the business before changing the business name in 1973.

He's seen enormous changes in Dungog in his 85 years. He laughs that his wife Robyn "goes crook" when he relays who used to live in a certain house in Dungog.

"The schools, that's the main thing I have seen change," he said.

While plastic pipes are in common use now, Ron can still also use all the fittings and equipment for copper pipe which is used heavily in Dungog's old homes.

In his 2001 newspaper article Ron said when he bought a backhoe, the machine was able to complete in 20 minutes what would take many men several days to dig with mattock and shovel.

Ron in the 1980s.

Ron in the 1980s.

Ron has a daughter, Jane Levick, who is a well known face at Dungog Hospital. His son Michael was his father's apprentice at one stage but "absolutely hated" the trade according to Ron who says he is much happier now with his own transport business in Port Macquarie.

Ron credits his children as the reason for him getting so involved in the community of Dungog. In 1984 he was named the Dungog Shire Citizen of the Year and has been actively involved in Scouts, and Girls Guides. He was president of the high school's P and C for years and became a school patron.

He was also on the board of the RSL Club for 18 years and was president for 11.

"I did say to them at the time I didn't know what I was doing there as I don't drink smoke or gamble," he chuckled.

Ron was a foundation member of the Dungog Menshed and as a member of Dungog Lions, he and Keith McInnes came up with the idea to start the Lioness Club of Dungog.

He's a big believer that keeping busy is the secret to his long and happy life. Ron remarried Robyn and the couple live happily in Abelard Street with Ron tinkering with his beloved vintage cars and Robyn creating jewellery.

In the news: