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18 November 2020
By SARAH MATTHEWS
Popular Horsham ‘gas man’ Bill Stewart will retire next week after five decades of serving the community.
Mr Stewart, 67, said he would ‘miss the people the most’, particularly the many loyal customers who had supported him throughout his various business ventures.
“I’ve had a lot of older loyal customers over the past 30 to 35 years – some, I’ve done their heaters for them for that whole period of time,” he said.
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“Customer service has always been a highlight for me, especially when you visit the older customers.
“While a lot of them want their heaters serviced, a lot of them want to have a chat as well. They might not have children locally or anything like that and they’re always up for a cup of tea.
“I’ve been doing the individual homes at Sunnyside Lutheran Retirement Village for 25 years and it’s the same there – they’re always up for a chat and we have a good relationship with them.
“It’s been good introducing our younger guys to that environment.”
Mr Stewart is in the process of finishing up his final weeks with Horsham family business Wade’s.
His role includes installing new gas appliances and servicing and repairs, along with training the next generation of gas technicians.
Mr Stewart emigrated from Northern Ireland, near Belfast, in 1966 at the age of 13, following his father’s death.
He and his mother moved to Mt Gambier to join Mr Stewart’s brother and his wife. After he left school, Mr Stewart had a short stint in the building industry before winning a gasfitting apprenticeship with the Gas and Fuel Corporation in 1970.
He said he took to the industry ‘straight away’.
“I was really happy,” he said.
“It was something I was interested in and when I started, all the appliances were very basic. We just saw the start of the introduction of electronic circuit boards into gas appliances. It was a good time.
“Unfortunately, the foreman here in Horsham was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so I was offered the job – that’s how I was able to make the transition.”
Mr Stewart took over as Horsham foreman of Gas and Fuel in 1977, leaving the company to start Horsham Gas Services in about 1984.
In 1990, he started the first of two stints with Wade’s.
“Wade’s sold the gas business to Kimpton Builders, in about 2000, and it then became Wimmera Gas Services,” he said.
“I managed that for Michael and Pam Clarke until about 2007 and then my wife and I bought Wimmera Gas Services back from Kimptons in 2007.”
Mr Stewart sold the business to Wade’s in about 2012, after being approached by director Adrian Wade.
“I was looking to get out of the business with a view to planning retirement,” he said.
“I’d always been sub-contracting and working for Wade’s and continued to have very close contact with them. So, Adrian suggested I come back here and see my time out with Wade’s, which is what’s happened.”
Mr Stewart has seen a wealth of changes throughout his time in the industry.
“When I first came here with Gas and Fuel, probably two thirds of the town didn’t have mains gas and we had more than 700 customers still on cylinders,” he said.
“I supervised the laying of all the new gas mains through Horsham North and other areas during that time.
“At Gas and Fuel I was a supervisor, looking after staff who were doing a heap of service work and installations.
“In those days there was no plumbing inspectors or Energy Safe Victoria inspectors – basically, I was it.”
Mr Stewart said in recent years, technology had started to leave him behind.
“I made a comment a few years ago it’s a waste of time sending me for training for new appliances, they need to send the younger gas guys because they’re the future,” he said.
Mr Stewart said he planned to spend his retirement completing ‘a long list of jobs’, headed by a back-yard renovation.
He said he would stay in Horsham, with his wife, Julie, still working at Prouds jewellers.
“I’m hoping I can handle retirement because I’ve never been a person who has stayed at home,” Mr Stewart said.
“I love playing golf and I have a strong group of friends who travel all over the place playing.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into fishing – I have a nine-year-old grandson and we’re looking forward to doing a bit of fishing together.
“I’ve also had him out at the golf club trying to teach him how to play golf.”
Mr Stewart said he would miss the ‘great bunch of people’ at Wade’s and would call up to find out when ‘baking day’ was so he could time his visits.
“I’d like to thank everyone who’s been a loyal customer over the years – that’s the side of things I’ll miss more than anything,” he said.
“I found that as much as I’ve loved what I’ve done over the years, I’ve started to lose the passion for it. When you lose that, you know your time is right.”
Wade’s director Adam Jolley said Mr Stewart would be missed.
“We appreciate Bill’s services over such a long time and the knowledge he’s brought along, along with all the fun times and friendships,” he said.
“Bill is very well known – he’s the ‘gas man’. He’s been the best in the district forever.”
The entire November 18, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!