My friend Ron

My Friend Ron

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C.S. Lewis

I’m not sure yet why I’m writing this, nevertheless I know that it has to be written. It is a personal story though very related in its own way to our industry.

You may remember in a newsletter some months ago I told the story of being on a flight to Amsterdam, and I was the only passenger that had an empty seat next to me. The flight went all the way to Melbourne, from Sydney just to pick up one person. This person turned out to be a priest on his way home to Ireland to die.

The KLM flight was taking me to a training course to be held in the Netherlands in Amsterdam.

The story is really about inspiration, and the human spirit, and why we need each other, and humour, and people, and business, and lots of other things all mixed up together. Interestingly it all came from the motor industry and the good people in it.

When I arrived in Amsterdam I was picked up at the airport by the local Service Manager. He was kind enough to come out on Sunday although he was in somewhat of a hurry to get back home.

Here is a side line story about being picked up at the airport:

Once I was through customs and out onto the forecourt area of the airport I waited for the Service Manager to find me. The car arrived and I rolled my trolley over to the curb. We shook hands, talked a little and I loaded my bags into the boot. I had two bottles of whiskey I purchased in duty free sitting on top of the trolley. Within as few seconds of the greeting someone had zipped in and stolen the whiskey. So quick, like a pickpocket. I got that helpless feeling you get sometimes when you travel, where there is nothing you can do! I have never had anything stolen off a trolley since because I am obsessed with keeping my eye on everything. My retribution on all airport thieves.

We made our way through the traffic of Amsterdam to a place on the outskirts where the head office was. As I understood, the hotel was fairly near where the training was going to be held in the head office complex. As we travelled along a very busy six lane road, the Service Manager pointed out my hotel; strangely we went straight past. Within about 15 minutes we arrived at the head office, he jumped out, raced inside and came out with some car keys. He took me to a brand-new car and said “Here are the keys. The car needs some fuel and the hotel is that way, you saw it on the way from the airport.” He said “I have to go.” He jumped into his car and disappeared into the distance.

What a shock. He was gone. I had the keys to a left hand drive car and I had never driven on the left in my life. I had no clue where I was because I was not taking too much notice on the way there, and the car had no fuel so I had to find somewhere close to fill it up with a credit card that may or may not work. I sat in the car probably with a very dumb look on my face, wondering how I was going to do this. I knew the direction of the hotel, and I hoped there was a service station along this road. The car had a manual gear change; I went to put the seat belt on and turned to the left when it was on the right.  I got going and pulled out into the traffic trying to change gears with the wrong hand and switching the wipers on in place of the indicators. Luckily within a kilometre a service station appeared so I was able to fill the vehicle and the credit card worked.

I entered the six lane highway again; the cars surrounding me seemed to be going faster than previously. I got my speed up and started to feel a little more comfortable until I saw my hotel on the left. It was too late, I had to go by it, and it now became a distant object in my rear-view mirror, shi…. I saw a road not too far in front so I decided to make a U-turn. Halfway across the highway the coward came out in me and I raced into the side road instead of making the u-turn. The small roadway was rather beautiful with trees hanging over it, something like you see in one of those travel magazines, peaceful and serene. My entry into this movie like setting would change everything. Down the street I went looking for somewhere to turn around. My judgment was so far out that the rear-vision mirror was slapping the leaves and branches hanging from the trees, making a terrible noise inside the cabin. I was still in second gear so the engine was roaring. I found a driveway and turned into it, even this turning into the drive wasn’t easy as everything was back to front. I had put the wipers on again instead of the indicator and I was still in second gear so I stalled the engine. It was like a nightmare; even restarting the engine became a chore in the panic. A car came along and started sounding the horn so I panicked again. I was trying to find the gears. I found first and took off but misjudged the gutter so the car jumped wildly as I headed for the highway again. I went down this beautiful road again, in the opposite direction, hoping not to wipe-out  some parked cars that were along the street near the highway. On arriving back at the highway I swung around in the direction of the hotel. I was sweating like crazy and stressed out of my mind. I had to find the hotel again and get into it across the highway; fear and doubt were becoming my friends.

The last obstacle, the hotel was on the opposite side of the highway, and I had just gone through that experience of making a U-turn back at movie street so what could happen this time. I saw the hotel coming up; luckily there was a gap in the centre island in front of the hotel. I saw a gap in the traffic and accelerated through and pulled up in the carpark of the hotel. I must have sat there for 15 minutes with my heart beating like crazy wondering how this week was going to be, with a start like this and also having to drive every day to the office. The whole week could be a disaster.

A footnote to this part of the story. I went in to grab some lunch from the hotel dining room and I was sitting quietly and could hear noise, a growling noise. There was a dog under the table next to me. What is going on, I asked the waiter. Whoops, I learned that other countries’ customs are not the same as ours. Dogs in restaurants geee, my dog Chris would be out of control in there.

The next day I drove to the office with no incidents, I was a little early so had time to relax prior to the training starting. When we were invited into the room it was in a “U” shape so I took the seat that was roughly in the middle at the back facing where the teacher would be working from. Gradually the room filled and there were several seats next to me that were vacant. The last people to arrive were from Germany; they were a little bit late and came into the room with an air about them. They seem impeccably dressed in dark suits and distinguished looking; as my memory has it. The only vacant seats were next to me, that is where they sat.

Being the friendly guy that I am, I waited a short time and turned to the guy next to me and introduced myself in very clear English so that he could understand properly. He was a gray-haired gentleman who looked the part, I believe he had a gray beard at that time and he was extremely well groomed. The next part was unbelievable; from this German man’s lips came a perfect English voice/accent. What a surprise. He introduced himself as Ron and introduced his colleagues in the perfect Queen’s English and he did not say much more as training was about to start. Can you imagine where my mind was going in all this? Not much concentration on the training until morning tea, where I discovered that Ron was a Scotsman working in Germany as he had a German wife. (Oh)

At the same training I met a service manager from UK whose name was John. I asked him how he got there and he said he drove. There was a bit of learning going on here for me. He drove! From the UK! He’s got a right hand drive car! I did not know that you could drive right hand drive cars in Europe; I learned that there are other ways to get across the channel other than boats. (This was my first trip to Europe.)

It was an extraordinary week now as I look back, as I did not know that by the end of the week I would form two lifelong friendships with two great people of great character, intelligence, integrity, and incredible humour. Not only that, the three of us would stay connected in a small friendship circle from that time on, somehow bonded by this thing called the motor industry, somehow connected by our obsessions with motor cars and what surrounds them.

The friendships grew and over the years we saw each other many times through work and even socially. We have been into each other’s houses in our respective countries, and shared many ups and downs. Interestingly, I believe the most common binding thing between us was the ability to be able to laugh long and hard about life, the industry, people, and any other stupid things that we came across and yet we were able to stay focused on our individual careers.

Here comes the reason for writing this, Ron as I found out later had, had a kidney transplant. Over the years it began to fail again and this necessitated him to go back on dialysis. That increased over a period of time to where he was on dialysis at least three times a week. I cannot even begin to imagine what that would be like; all of us who are healthy would have trouble imagining that. The restrictions to our life would be unbearable and can I suggest that if it were me, and maybe you, it would create extreme depression due to the restrictions. Conversely, I never really saw Ron in that state at all. He may have been there; however, if he was suffering it was well hidden. Now the miracle of modern times came into play. Ron’s wife made a decision to donate to him one of her kidneys this time around. That is very special don’t you think? A courageous woman doing that for her husband, now that is marriage in true terms. So I have to thank her so much for this gesture, as it saved my friend’s life, such a special lady. That is some story and gets you thinking about life’s sacrifices and how they arrived at that decision and how they feel today etc. It is very lovely really; you have to agree.  And now the humour comes in, Ron has taken to carrying her handbag when they go out!

During Ron’s time on dialysis he rang me and told me he was going to run a marathon. What a marathon?! “Are you mad, why would you want to do that? Are you crazy?” He didn’t back away, and he went into training, and each time I rang him he had not backed away from his decision. You know what, he did it, and I have the photo to prove it at the top right-hand corner of this newsletter (look at the kidney on his T-shirt; he is representing the clinic he went to).Think about that. You’re on dialysis three times a week and you go into training for a marathon, and then you do it. That takes some fortitude; a mere mortal like me would not be able to do what Ron did, as I would be too busy wallowing around in my own self-pity. He did the marathon for himself sure; however, he did it to represent the clinic and others. Again is that not special?

So the message here for me anyway, is that when I am getting down about the world and the people and what has been done to me, and how bad things are for me, I’m able to look at my friend Ron and say to myself fuc# Bob, life is not so bad, because I have a friend who could laugh in the face of death and I am crying over some stupid little thing that is in comparison miniscule. He has a wife who is so unselfish that she would risk her own health for him, and I am here thinking and worrying about little things that upset me. When I think of what she did and the way she thinks makes me ashamed on my little life’s worries.  So to me there is much inspiration in Ron’s story and there is equal inspiration in what his wife Evelin did for him.

Now to John. He has retired, kind of, and is riding horses, and doing stuff he has always wanted to do, plus he is playing around with Triumph TR6 that I am extremely jealous about.

Both these friends in their own right are extremely good automotive executives. Both there in the top of the industry being able to mix it with the best, and I am grateful that I have been able to learn from them. Ron is a top engineer and knows his stuff and John, if put in front of a whiteboard, he can lead groups of people in brainstorming like no one else and a technical wizard as well. Again more reasons for me being fortunate to have cemented these relationships on that trip to Amsterdam.

This newsletter may not seem like it’s about business, but it is. Because when you are in business you need to build relationships like these, as you need support as you travel along your industry path. You need to laugh and someone to laugh with you, and sometimes you need a bed when you’re in trouble in a foreign country, and sometimes you just need a friend. So it is all part of business life however, these are a very personal part and whoever said that “there are no friends in business” did not have a clue what they were talking about and I suggest they may have finished up very lonely at the end of their business career. Finally, it also proves that distance is not a barrier to true friendship.

(I spoke to both of these mates the night I finished this letter. I also spoke to Evelin and to John’s wife Maggie, another special person who will do anything for anyone, even a wretch like me.  I feel privileged having friends like these and many others the motor industry has given me, and we all should feel good that people like this are in this world with us.)

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