WokWite He’s the world’s oldest plumber, according to the Guinness World Records. But he’s also quick-witted, highly educated and has no intention of retiring any time soon.
Lorne Figley is not your average 95-year-old. On a regular workday, he’s making house calls and successfully running his heating and plumbing business, Broadway Heating Ltd.
I called Figley one afternoon to set up an in-person interview. I explained I was calling on behalf of Directwest, the providers of Mysask411. As a customer since 1987, we wanted to share the story of his success by writing an online article about his career.
His sense of humour was apparent right way. At the end of our conversation, I asked if he could confirm his address. With a chuckle, he asked me why I didn’t simply look it up online on Mysask411. Immediately, I knew it was going to be an enjoyable afternoon getting to know Figley and discovering what makes him so passionate about his work.
Figley started his business in 1947 after he returned to Canada from serving in Holland during World War Two. Throughout the 1950’s to 1970’s, he enthusiastically pursued education. Today, he’s an accountant, a pilot and a journeyman holding Red Seal endorsements for tickets in plumbing, sheet metal, pipe fitting, and refrigeration and air conditioning.
Yet Figley is modest, more proud of his family’s achievements than his own. When I asked him about his Guinness World Record achievement, he subtly shrugged his shoulder and joked that he lost a lot of customers because now people know how old he really is. Then he changed the subject, telling me instead about his family’s accomplishments. His children and grandchildren include three engineers, a nurse, a lawyer, a veterinarian and cumulatively, they hold four PhDs. Figley’s passion for learning is quite clearly something that runs in his family.
While telling me his life story, Figley showed me around his office and workspace. The garage in his backyard is filled with all the fittings, pipes and tubing you would expect of a man who is quite literally, a jack of all trades.
He makes house calls in his white Chevy Silverado. A bed slide system helps him load and access the tools and equipment he needs to solve problems on-site.
In the basement of his house is his home office and a space he calls his “thinking room.” Photos of his children hang on the wall and several tables and shelving units line the room, each set up with the specific tools and equipment he needs to conduct business.
“The road to success is the right tools,” he tells me as he shows me around. “You need specific tools to do this work.”
Although plumbing hasn’t changed much in the past fifty years, technology has. Managing the technological side of his business, he showed me the four phones and two computers he uses to keep track of his books, invoices and business calls. He’s set up call forwarding from his Blackberry to his iPhone and recently had the hard drive upgraded in his desktop.
Yet he still has an appreciation for things outside the digital world. Sitting right next to his office chair were two Saskatoon phonebooks, almost as if he’d set them out in preparation for my visit. But truthfully, he simply likes the ease of access the paper copies allow him when searching for details and addresses for clients and other businesses.
Figley has worked all across Western Canada, from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, to Edmonton and Winnipeg. In the 1970’s he had the opportunity to travel up to Pine Point on the southern shores of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. He serviced a whole town of nearly 2000 people as a plumber. He also took his pilot training and chipped in to buy an airplane with nearly a dozen other tradesmen. A highlight during his time in the north was flying around and in particular, an opportunity to fly a DC-3 for a few hours on the way to Yellowknife.
According to Figley, his family isn’t too worried about him still working as “they’re all still working and running their businesses too.”
When I asked why he hasn’t considered retirement yet, Figley smiled at me and asked me a question in return.
“What else would I do?”October 1, 2018