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Garry’s lifetime of keeping Stawell cool 

3 July 2024

Garry Lewis has devoted his entire career to refrigeration maintenance and repairs. To the staff at Grampians Health’s Stawell campus, he is considered a ‘rock star’ – and not because he works in front of many big fans.

For more than 50 years, Garry has diligently serviced the coolrooms, refrigerators and air conditioners at the Stawell campus and MacPherson Smith Residential Care Community. That service includes replacement and repairs on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Garry said many of his callouts are in the middle of the night.

“I’ve always tried to be available, no matter what time of day or night,” he said.

“My most recent call-out was about 2am in the morning and we were on the roof on a cold and rainy night to fix the refrigeration. Many of the calls are after midnight, around 2am because that’s the time the refrigeration defrosts are generally cutting in and refrigeration is more likely to break down.”

When Garry first started working at the Stawell hospital, he was completing an apprenticeship and attending trade school at RMIT in Melbourne.

“Trade school was a lot different in the early days,” he said.

“I remember the OH&S element of your learning basically took an hour and half and that was it. The instructor would look around and say: ‘Well there’s 20 of you here today. If there had been 25 of you, I would have said one of you will be dead by the end of your apprenticeship so make sure it’s not you’.

“Thankfully OH&S has dramatically improved from those unenlightened days, and everyone gets to go home. Back then you learnt on the job mostly and I believe this was a more successful learning method.

“Fan motors and refrigerant leaks used to be common breakdowns so when I was doing my apprenticeship my boss taught me how to repair refrigeration on the spot and that pretty much became my main role throughout my apprenticeship and working life.”

Garry also noticed a lot of changes to infrastructure over the years.

“When I first came, I was servicing just stand-alone fridges in the kitchen and a few under-bench fridges. Later the hospital needed coolrooms for more capacity. There were no dedicated pharmacy fridges on the wards back in the day. They just used domestic fridges and wrote ‘drugs’ on the front of them.”

Garry eventually started his own business and was full of praise for the support he received from the Stawell campus team over the journey.

“As a contractor, the staff have been fantastic to work with,” he said.

“You know if you need help with something for a couple of minutes, there is always someone from maintenance who will help you. It might seem like ‘all in a day’s work’ to them but for me it’s been fantastic because it would have taken me longer on the job otherwise.”

Garry said he didn’t have many stories from his days but a highlight for him was in February 2011, when his granddaughter was born.

“My eldest daughter had her first daughter at Stawell hospital and I got to take advantage of my dedicated parking space when I came to visit her, so that made it a bit more special.”

Despite dedicating more than 50 years, Garry has no plans for retirement just yet.

“People tell me I’m an idiot for still doing this role but I don’t want to retire and leave my clients in the lurch. I haven’t had a holiday since before COVID because I just don’t get time to get away but sometimes I will get away for a weekend in the winter.”

Grampians Health maintenance manager at Stawell Phillip Hutton said Garry was very much a part of the furniture at Stawell.

“We’ve been able to rely on his quick response and his helpful, friendly nature over the years so he is very important to our operations, especially the catering side,” Mr Hutton said.