Tribute to Bob Jennings – Bernard KilBride

I first encountered Bob Jennings around 25 years ago. A few years before that I was working for a fencing company in South Wales as an estimator. I was young and confident, good with figures and knew most fencing products well, and thought that I had what it took to run my own fencing business. And so I left and set up on my own. I soon found there was a lot more to running a business than I had thought – there were employees, and customers and suppliers to deal with, and taxes! The first year or so was tough and lonely, and I realised then that I needed help and support.

One day whilst browsing Fencing News magazine, I came across an advertisement for the European Fencing Industry Association (EFIA), The ad said that EFIA was a professional trade association for the fencing industry dedicated to helping companies grow and develop. “That’s exactly what I need”, I thought to myself, and so I applied to join. That application started a 25-year long friendship with Bob Jennings.

Bob, who had founded EFIA back in 1982 and was its General Secretary, rang me to tell me that my application had been successful and to explain the many benefits of being an EFIA member. I remember that Bob was chatty and friendly and generous with his time, and was clearly a bountiful font of fencing knowledge (I didn’t know it at the time, but Bob was also the founder and Editor of Fencing News magazine back then). He ended the call by cheerily saying that I could ring and ask him for advice as often as I needed. I laughed and told him that he’d regret saying that as I would be on the phone every week. He told me that would be fine, as that was what he was there for.

True to my word I did ring Bob regularly back then. And true to Bob’s word, that was fine – he never tired of answering my various questions about, for example, health and safety, employment, training, standards, etc. It seemed that there was little that Bob didn’t know or wasn’t willing to give when asked. He was a real mentor to me and an invaluable support to my young business.

Once my own business was up and running smoothly I thought it only fair to give something back to Bob, and so I joined his EFIA Development Committee, and together over the next decade Bob and I and the team helped dozens of other small businesses just like my own to develop and grow.

Around six years ago, after nearly 30 years at the helm of the EFIA, Bob (now in his eighties) decided that it was time to slow down, and he asked me to take over his role as EFIA’s General Secretary. I was deeply honoured to have been asked, and agreed. t was daunting at first, to suddenly be the man on the end of the phone that members turn to for advice, and besides Bob was a hard act to follow. Fortunately, Bob stayed with EFIA as a special advisor, and so I still had Bob by my side to call upon, just like the old days.

Eventually I became more accustomed to the role, and not so long ago whilst welcoming a young and enthusiastic new member to the EFIA, I told him that he could call me as often as he needed for advice. He laughed, and told me that I would regret saying that and would ring me all the time. Without thinking I found myself echoing Bob’s words from 25 years earlier in telling him that he was welcome to do so, and that was what I was there for.

Bob Jennings made a deep and lasting impression on me, as indeed he did with everyone he knew and worked with. There wasn’t much that Bob didn’t know about fencing, and during his 35 years at EFIA and Fencing News he generously shared his great knowledge and experience widely throughout the industry.

I was one of those many beneficiaries, and was privileged to know and work with Bob for much of my career. As Bob’s successor at EFIA I feel very proud to have been given the opportunity to continue his legacy in both spirit and in deed.

Bob Jennings will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.