Being one of the tallest teens in his youth group turned out to be a great stroke of luck for Bob Lewis when he was paired up with the girl who would become his wife.
‘The church ran an end-of-year concert and we had to have dancing practise in the lead up to it. It turned out that Betty and I were both the second tallest of males and females and that's how we were put together. And I went from there,’ Bob says.
They married when Bob was 20 and Betty was 18 and had three children together.
‘Her parents had moved to Melbourne about two years before that because of the Depression and they were quite happy for her to marry early.’
Bob was born in Northcote in 1928, the youngest of six children in a family of plumbers.
‘I can remember when I was little tot, my brother used to take me out on jobs. He even had a little tool bag for me and I had my own tools. My dad worked for a company that was a precursor to the old Gas and Fuel Corporation,’ Bob says.
When he finished school, Bob was looking forward to starting a plumbing apprenticeship but with the war still raging, his plans were thwarted by the Commonwealth’s Manpower Directorate, which had the authority to dictate where people had to work to assist in the war effort.
‘My considerations weren't taken into account at all. Unfortunately, I was placed in a chemical factory where they made poison gas and I was 15. I mean, it was ridiculous when you think about it.’
Bob blames his time at the chemical factory for the emphysema he now battles but he is thankful that the factory also provided him a chance to try his hand at performing as part of a dance band.
Gigging in Northcote
‘One of the plumbers there played sax in a band in Northcote. So, one day he said to me, “Do you think you'd be good enough to play in the band?” I said, “I'll try it out”. So, they got a couple of old drums and a couple of sticks and I did. “Oh”, they said. “You'll do”.
‘We played every Saturday and some Wednesday nights, and we got paid 26 shillings a night.’
When Bob was finally able to finish his plumbing apprenticeship, he worked for his brother for a couple of years before deciding being on the tools was not for him.
‘I thought this is not what I want to do. Sorry. I want to be a manager. I want to run things. So I went to night school.’
After studying accountancy, Bob began working in warehouse management and eventually moved to country Victoria where he managed large building companies. Through it all, he was supported by his faith, having become a volunteer lay preacher when in his 20s.
‘When it was the Methodist Church, each suburb would have maybe three or four or five churches and so they needed lay people to do the preaching as well as the minister, because one minister was all they could ever afford. I did it for 20 or 30 years,’ Bob says.
‘I always felt comfortable with my beliefs and that God was going to look after me.’
Reviewed 01 September 2022