Diversity of past 27 years enjoyable

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Today the Oamaru Mail marks the end of an era, as one of its most devoted staff members departs. Office manager Kathy Hobbs speaks to reporter Sally Brooker

Kathy Hobbs is retiring from the Oamaru Mail after 27 years’ continuous service, and two stints prior to that.

The young Kathryn McGaughey first arrived at the Mail as an office junior in 1969, having studied accounting and typing at Waitaki Girls’ High School. She then moved to an architect’s office and the Waitaki Power Board, and got married to local lad Brent Hobbs.

Kathy left the workforce to raise their two sons, Richard and Michael. After they had started school, Brent was approached by then Oamaru Mail advertising manager Jeff White, asking if Kathy would like a job. So in 1986 she became an advertising representative, working 9am to 3pm and having the school holidays off to be with the boys.

“It was hard,” Kathy said, referring to the demands of approaching potential advertisers and persuading them to invest with the Mail. She graduated from regular advertising to features, where she was able to use graphic design skills to produce her own layouts.

“That made it more satisfying.”

The economic difficulties of the late 1980s led to Kathy being made redundant in 1988, but she returned as a permanent advertising staff member in 1990. When the long-serving Val Orme retired from the Mail‘s front office in 1995, Kathy took her place. She has been there ever since with the stipulation that she had Wednesdays off to play golf.

She and a friend had taken up the sport in 1985, when their youngest children turned 5.

“It seemed a shame to have learned to play and then not be able to. It was something for myself.”

With her physical health seen to, she took up bridge in the mid-1980s “for the mental side of things”. Kathy still plays bridge regularly, but knee and hip problems put the golf on hold two years ago.

Kathy’s time at the Mail spans many locations, from when it was in the historic Smith’s Grain Store in Tyne St. The Coquet St premises were purpose-built in the 1970s, then after the press became disused the business moved into Thames St. It occupied two different sites before settling into the remodelled offices at 59 Thames St under Allied Press ownership.

Office systems have changed massively since Kathy started at the Mail

“We used to do the wages, advertising, and subscription accounts in two different ledgers.”

The four office staff would process all the accounts themselves before folding them and putting them into envelopes for posting.

At different stages, information was loaded on to discs to be taken to the bank, and accounts that reeled off dot matrix printers had to be torn along perforated lines into their separate components.

When everything became computerised under APN’s ownership, Kathy had to create a database to keep track of all subscribers. Every street in Oamaru had to be entered, allocated to a delivery run, and apportioned to a deliverer. The rural delivery areas were even more difficult to sort out.

Kathy and colleague April Rushton spent three weeks on the task, sometimes working from 8.30am until 10pm.

Oamaru Mail accounts were still being printed until Allied Press took over in 2014.

Now, Kathy is passing on her extensive knowledge to her successor, Sharyn Pope. It was a complex matter, as she hadn’t realised how much she knew that others didn’t.

“You take it for granted. It’s on automatic pilot.”

Looking back on her career, Kathy said she liked the hands-on work best – “doing accounts from scratch”.

“I didn’t enjoy stuffing envelopes.”

The multitasking that is vital to her role came readily, especially after Kathy had become a mum.

“I’ve enjoyed the diversity of the 25 years I’ve had. It was a roller coaster.

“I enjoyed meeting the public and doing my best to help them.”

As many customers became aware of Kathy’s impending retirement in the last couple of weeks, they have been saying their goodbyes. Elderly sisters who always come to the office together said they would miss seeing her.

“It will be odd not seeing everyone,” Kathy said. “But I’ve left it in good hands.”

Kathy is due to have her right hip replaced in Dunedin next week, following on from a left knee replacement late last year.

Then she hopes to return to the golf course, where she left her handicap on 24.

She and Brent also plan to travel. They have already booked a trip to Tasmania in March next year. In the meantime, Kathy is looking forward to getting back into her garden again.

Back in the day . Kathy Hobbs can be seen surrounded by her Oamaru Mail colleagues in a staff photo from about 2000. Kathy is in the centre of the back row, to the right of the red and blue striped hat. PHOTO: SUPPLIED