TONY OAKES: FIREMAN, FAMILY MAN, FOUNDER
By Gavin & Alan Oakes
Our father, Tony Oakes, spent most of his working life around print in one form or another – initially as a compositor on the Down Recorder and then later as founder of the family business, Plus2Print in 1990.
However, for more than 36 years he had another life. In 1969 he became a volunteer fireman in Downpatrick. It was just before the Troubles erupted across Northern Ireland. Often the two lives coincided, when he’d be called out at night on a fire emergency and would type-set the story for the paper the next day.
By the time he retired from the service in 2005 as Sub Officer, he’d already witnessed a lifetime of terrible tragedy and loss. But his belief in people remained as strong as ever and his pride in the Fire Service was unshakable. After retirement, he maintained his lifelong commitment to community work and fundraising projects. These efforts would ultimately see him awarded an MBE in 2002.
His decision to leave the Down Recorder and set up Plus2Print was a difficult one. He long had the dream of setting up his own business. But not for himself, for his family. Because that is what really motivated him. He saw in it a chance to build something for the future – for us and our brothers.
He worked long, long hours, weekends, holidays, whatever it took. And he loved it. The shop – in different premises then – became a sort of social hub where things still somehow got done despite all the storytelling, chatting and cups of tea and it still is today.
When illness forced him to step aside in 2003, the business was in good enough shape to cope. Alan had been with him since leaving school and knew the ropes inside out. I soon joined him and our other two brothers helped out whenever they could.
We knew we had a great role model who instilled in us the virtues of hard work, dedication and customer service. And our father was never far away, somehow always finding his way to the shop every day – you know, just to keep an eye on things!
Tony Oakes was a man of many passions. He was fiercely loyal to the Fire Service, his friends and community. He loved darts, golf, football as well as wayward greyhound and a temperamental racehorse. But above all, his family came first. He passed away suddenly on September 1, 2015: 25 years to the day of the opening of Plus2Print.
Our business is his legacy.