Kermie remembers mate Bob
THIS past week I've had the saddest job of all - reading the eulogy for one of my closest friends Bob Gruar.
A minor heart event took Bobby into hospital and there, they discovered that the prostate cancer that had supposedly been under control had spread throughout his body. Four short weeks later Bob died.
It was almost impossible to comprehend, as a couple of days before the attack we'd been sitting at his home, laughing and quaffing our usual scotches and bourbons. Life is too short.
Bob had asked me some time earlier that, if he kicked the bucket before me, he wanted me to do the eulogy.
"Not having someone who's never known me pretend that they do,” he said.
Of course I agreed, thinking that it wouldn't be for years.
Bobby loved reading Big Rigs and this column in which he and Sandy featured many times.
He loved the trucking industry in which his son Rick had worked up until his untimely death.
Bob came to a number of truck shows with me, hobbling around on his wobbly knees and insisting on carrying my camera bag. They were good days together.
Bobby had driven a truck himself in the old days, for Fleetways Transport, where he worked for 12 years. A heavy rigid - the only one in the group.
He drove anything and everything, anywhere and everywhere.
He was entrusted by the company to transport in secrecy Holden cars under development from the factory to the proving grounds at Lang Lang.
These were the FB and FC models. It wasn't enough to make him a Holden fan though; Bob was a Blue Oval man through and through.
From Fleetways he moved into security at MSS.
It was with them he gained unwanted fame when, in 1970, the company was robbed.
As he related it to me:
"I was alone in the Control Room when 'ding-dong' goes the doorbell. All I could see was a copper's hat.
"They claimed they had recovered the set of keys that had been stolen from a patrolman on the South Melbourne run a week before and held them up at the door window so I could see them. Being a copper I let him in.
"He was accompanied by a detective - pork pie hat and all - which was typical plain clothes stuff at the time. Joseph Patrick Monash was his name. I'll never forget it.
"Dropping the keys on the counter - and before I had time to react - Monash grabbed me and shoved a .32 Browning up my nose. I had my pistol on me and if I'd been able to get to it I would've shot the bastards.
"They took the pistol - which was mine, not the company's - and I never got it back. I was shitty about that because they never reimbursed me for it.
"Then they handcuffed me to a chain wire fence out the back in the payroll area and nicked $289,000 - a lot of money back then. It was obvious they had inside information and, of course, I was an immediate suspect - but only for about 10 minutes, according to Paul Delainus, one of the detectives on the case.
"Long story short, I had to attend ID parades all over the place.
"It was at Port Augusta where I saw Monash, the bastard. I walked up to him, poked him in the chest and said 'there's your man'. Would've punched him out if I could've.
"Then followed seven Supreme Court trials before they convicted him, with me as the star witness.
"Monash had a heap of barristers and there were hung juries and all sorts - but we got him in the end.”
From MSS, Bob moved to Healesville, starting his own security service, and patrolled the town at night for the next 27 years.
During this time he worked with the police to arrest a local who had gone berserk, saving one of the policemen from being shot.
For his help he received a citation from the Commissioner of Police.
Kids would jump the fence of the local pool at midnight for a dip and Bob would kick them out, but never called the cops on them.
He helped a lot of young, would-be tearaways get back on the straight and narrow.
Rita and I met Bobby and his wife Sandy about nine years ago. we quickly became firm friends. He would often drop in at ours with cappuccinos in hand.
He'd struggle out of his Falcon with coffee and walking stick. Sometimes it was just for a have-a-chat. Other times it was because, "Sandy's got the shits with me”. Watching him get out of his car I was prompted one time to suggest that, maybe he should look at getting something a bit higher - like a RAV 4 maybe?
"No bloody way,” he exclaimed.
"Why not?” says I.
"BECAUSE IT'S NOT A BLOODY FORD, THAT'S WHY!”
He lusted after a Ranger and I didn't have the heart to tell him that, with his knees, he'd need an elevator to get into one.
Our fondest times were Thursday afternoons when we'd get together around 2pm and kick on until the girls decided that Bob and I had had enough to drink.
Those afternoons were filled with laughter.
I constantly took the mickey out of Sandy and Bob loved it.
"Mate, she'd kill me if I said things like that.”
We never tried solving the problems of the world.
"The world can get stuffed today,” Bob would say. Bob was a blokey bloke, but that didn't stop him giving me a hug and kiss whenever we got together, our 5 o'clock shadows giving us a skin rash. "I love you, mate,” were always his parting words.
He told me more than once that I was his best mate. I knew that was true - just as I knew he had many best mates. I was just proud to be included as one of them.
Some say that you have to be born in a town to 'be a local'. Bob wasn't born in Healesville, but he was the total and absolute epitome of what 'a local' is.
All I ever heard from anyone who knew him was, "Bobby Gruar - now there's a bloody good bloke”.
I can think of no greater epitaph than that.
With Bob's passing, Healesville has lost some of its soul, one of its icons, and I have lost one of my best mates.
Bobby. I love you my friend. You were, quite simply, The Best! Rest in Peace.