Amongst the many traits of the people half a century ago were loyalty, loyalty to one’s family and fealty to one’s employer. Because of this, one never got divorced however dysfunctional the marriage or toxic the employer.
In my father’s case, it meant spending his whole working life for bosses that he disrespected and conditions under which he felt exploited.
Spare a thought for one such employee, Harry Clifford McCleland, in this milieu.
Main picture: Main Entrance to Yard of JJ Ruddy & Sons in Lindsay Road
Intrusion of War into Life
On the 10th July 1940 at the age of 29, Clifford McCleland, my father, took a bold step in his life. In his case, it was especially bold, almost audacious. Being shy and socially ill adroit, such an act was quite out of character for him. Perhaps it was peer pressure, not wanting to receive the feather, which was indicative of a lack of patriotic fervour, or maybe it was something more mundane such as a need for excitement, which drove him to enlist.
On that fateful day, Clifford was attested into the Army and posted to the 5th Field Regiment, SA Artillery. Almost exactly a year later on the 2nd July 1941, he embarked upon a troop transport bound for Suez in Egypt. In part thanks to the fact that he had been posted to the artillery, he never experienced combat directly.
What is known however is that he did participate in one of the most decisive battles of WW2: the Battle of El Alamein during October 1942. According to my father, the thousands of guns illuminated the night sky as if it was daylight. Shortly afterwards as the Allies chased Rommel’s fleeing Africa Korps all the way across northern Africa to Tunisia while the South Africans remained at El Alamein. The South African forces would not participate in that great exciting gallop across the desert. Instead, they were posted back home. On New Year’s day 1943, they disembarked at Durban.
After five and half years in browns, Clifford was discharged from the Army on the 9th January 1946.
Qualified as a carpenter, he arrived back home to Port Elizabeth. His mother, Elizabeth Daisy McCleland, had, by this time sold her tearoom in Schoenmakerskop and was settled in her house in Walmer.
Fortunately, he had accommodation but like the thousands of other returnees, he had to find employment. Initially he did not obtain employment at JJ Ruddy & Sons, but within a short period, he resumed working at Ruddy’s.
The Story of the creation of Ruddy’s
A denizen of East London, a Mr JJ Ruddy, was born in 1883. After serving his time as an apprentice in Port Elizabeth as a bricklayer, he was promoted to the position of foreman at Harris and Harrower.
Notwithstanding the fact that the early 1930s was in the midst of the Wall Street crash and the resulting Great Depression, Mr JJ Ruddy felt the urge, in either 1932 or 1933, to branch out on his own as a building contractor. Apart from the poor economic prospects, Mr Ruddy did not have financial backing. It is recorded that his business, eponymously called JJ Ruddy, “operated on a shoestring”, as he eloquently stated it. Under financial duress, he was compelled to accept any building work, however menial – houses, municipal jobs, alterations et cetera, the type of jobs that established builders never tendered on.
At the conclusion of the depression and the emergence of more stable times financially, his eldest son, Mr JWL Ruddy joined the business in 1936. After his education at the Grey High School, he commenced an apprenticeship as pupil engineer at the City Engineer’s Department. After a stint as assistant engineer, from 1929 to 1936 in King William’s Town, he joined the family business as a foreman. By the time of Mr Ruddy senior’s death in 1949, his son had already assumed the reins of the company resulting in a flawless transition.
After completing his education at St. Aidan’s College in Grahamstown, the second son JB Ruddy joined the company as an apprentice carpenter. After a stint at the coalface, he rose through the ranks until he accepted responsibility for all the quantity surveying.
Another notable employee at JJ Ruddy & Sons, as the firm was officially known, was a Mr W Tait who commenced employment in 1948 as an office clerk. Finally, in 1958, he was appointed as Company Secretary.
There are no extant records of Clifford’s date of employment at JJ Ruddy & Sons but one can safely assume that it was prior to the outbreak of WW2 as that fact is pertinent to the discussion. Whenever it was in the 1930’s, his career choice had been wise as Port Elizabeth was expanding rapidly and concomitantly were building and contracting firms such as JJ Ruddy & Sons.
At the date of Clifford’s appointment, the offices of the company were situated in Main Street – where Greatermans was later situated – and the Builder’s Yard was located at North End.
During 1956, JJ Ruddy relocated its business to Lindsay Road, Korsten, a relatively new industrial area. By this time, larger jobs were tendered for. Amongst those awarded to them were the following:
- Lowcliffe House in Main Street in 1938
- Castle Court in 1938
- 1000 houses in New Brighton
- Original Pearson High School
- Alamein Court
- Bowling Mills
- Aberdare Cables in 1945
- NBS Building in Main Street in 1951/2
- OK Bazaars North End
- Val Orange in Neave Township
- Ford admin block in Neave Township in 1952
At which of these Clifford was the Site Foreman on, I cannot recall. Amongst the ones that I can remember is the King’s Beach children’s entertainment park, which included a children’s paddling pool, a restaurant, alfresco theatre, change rooms and a children’s railway.
The challenge with this contract was that it was constructed on sea sand which required deep foundations.
Another project which I can recall, only because our dad was away from home, was the construction of two cold-rooms at Louterwater in the Langkloof for Lanko Kooperatief Beperk. During its construction, an incident arose which was extremely stressful for Clifford. On his staff, one employee was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. For whatever reason, he slipped and fell from the scaffolding. As this religion believes that the Bible prohibits them from accepting blood transfusions, he was obliged not to accept a transfusion. Consequently he ultimately died.
It was now that the tone of conversation evolved. Clifford was never a conversationalist, especially to the children. Shards of conversation were overhead that instead of investing in the company, its Directors were cost cutting while the owners splurged on luxuries.
The company was in decline.
The amusing motto, Another Ruddy Building was no longer so prominent or so evident on the highways or even the byways of Port Elizabeth. The jobs that the business was tendering on were again like those of Ruddy’s formative years. Instead of the large jobs, it was the smaller more minor alterations such as those at the Ford Engine Plant in Neave where Clifford was site foreman.
Was this decline due to their inability to go national that caused their downfall or was it a classic case where the entrepreneur starts a successful business and then the next generation do not possess the same drive and motivation and the succeeding generation even less.
By the 1960’s, the likes of Murray and Stewart, or Muddle and Stupid, and LTA were on the ascendant and taking over.
In fact, I recall that in 1968 an ex subordinate of Dad’s now working at LTA, whose abilities as a carpenter Dad did not rate very highly, attempted to head hunt him. Dad consulted Aubrey White, a Director and architect at Ruddy’s and the only guy that Dad respected. Aubrey pointed out that job-hopping would have pension implications especially as Dad was 57 at that stage. This fact was especially pertinent due to the “broken service” which would result in a diminished pension payout from the company. Moreover, he assured Clifford that he need not worry, as the firm would “see him right”, a “gentleman’s agreement” with nothing in writing. As a result, Dad rejected the offer and eight years later was forced into retirement. So much for the assurances of their Director; his pension was based on his post WW2 service only. Apart from this kick in the pants, all that Dad received for his lengthy years of faithful service, was a crappy watch!
So much for loyalty and dedication!
From its heyday, when the saying was “Another Ruddy Building” had it morphed into ”I am OK Jack.”
As I left Port Elizabeth permanently on 11th February 1980, I am unaware of the fate of a Port Elizabeth icon. Maybe it no longer even exists.
Furthermore, we have to ask whether such companies who do not value their loyal hard working employees, deserve to survive. I would like to contrast that attitude with the Company for which my son now works. As a 27-year-old employee with five years’ service, he was recently been awarded an Apple Watch worth R 10,000!
It just shows you the difference in attitude.
It will serve other organisations well to follow their example.