Farewell, Cobber: Goodbye to Warwick legend
Robert John Keogh
January 26, 1934- October 19, 2018
A PROUD son of Warwick, Bob Keogh was known for his dry wit and fierce determination to see one of Warwick's most iconic projects through to its finish.
Born Robert John Keogh on Australia Day, 1934, Bob was surrounded by family when he passed away, aged 84, at home last Friday.
Bob was born and bred in Warwick but financially difficult family circumstances meant he had to leave school at 13, so he worked as a photography assistant to the Haig Brothers, then as a railway cleaner.
Bob worked hard for everything he achieved, completing self-study to achieve promotions as a fireman and driver for Queensland Rail.
He saved enough money to buy a bicycle to travel to and from Toowoomba, which enabled him to earn his pilot's license at 19 and senior commercial pilot's licence at 34.
Bob married wife Kathleen (Kate) Gambley in 1965 and together they established Downs Flight Centre, which trained pilots as far afield as Roma, Charleville and Longreach.
But Bob's family members say one of his proudest moments was teaching his wife and all three of his daughters - Julia, Rebecca and Ildiko - to fly.
"A true gentleman who always 'walked the walk', never accepting 'no' as a final answer, Bob displayed a lifetime of calm self-assurance, coupled with a dry humour, much loved by his children, grandchildren and wide circle of friends," his family shared.
"Bob was living proof that you are never too young or old to achieve your dreams and many of his adventures and achievements were captured in his book, Around the Circle - A life with Planes and Trains."
Brian Clark edited Bob's memoir, released at the start of this year, and remembered Bob as a "thoroughly decent bloke".
"This year I have told many people about him and his adventures, emphasising how much he achieved from such a limited formal education, which is always a reliable measure of a person's character," he said.
"People shake their heads in amazement when I tell them that a bloke who barely passed primary school could end up being a pilot, and then go on to be such an effective flying instructor."
After 35 years in the aviation industry, Bob retired in 1995 and latched onto a new vision of reintroducing steam rail travel to the Southern Downs. Bob's family said he rallied friends and acquaintances to establish the Southern Downs Steam Railway association.
"This group of volunteers, nicknamed 'Dad's Army' then got to work on the enormous task of restoring the loco and carriages and lobbying government at regional, state and federal levels, to secure sufficient funding and achieve certification for the Southern Downs Steam Railway to operate on the main Queensland Rail line," they said.
One of the men Bob rallied for the cause was John Brady, who originally started working on the railway with his great mate at the age of 15.
To Bob, John was "cobber", and together they restored the locomotive to get the old railway up and running.
"I would have given it away, every time he'd ring up with someone in hierarchy they'd throw an obstacle in his way," he said.
"Through sheer tenacity he'd find a way to get around it, that's the only reason I stayed with him on it."
Back on the old railway fitters and turners wouldn't mind a bit of friendly banter but, as they grew older, Bob and John became great mates.
It was Bob who nominated John for an Order of Australia Medal, which he received earlier this year.
"I've always said the wrong fellow got that, he should have got the OAM and I should have been there swinging off his coattails," John said.
When Warwick lost Bob, the town said goodbye to a community-minded gentleman.
He was a member of the Knights of the Southern Cross, patron of the Warwick Recreation Aero Club, former board member of Warwick Fire Services, and former chair of the local National/LNP branch.
Former member for Southern Downs Lawrence Springborg was proud to call Bob a friend, remembering him as practical and down to earth.
"Everything about Bob Keogh was sheer passion and determination and he was so self-taught," Mr Springborg said.
"In an era when people didn't have too much, he taught himself to do remarkable things that many people would be envious of.
"He was a wonderful fellow and it goes without saying that he'll leave an extraordinary legacy."
Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie said her lasting memory of Bob would be his contribution to the iconic institution that is the Southern Down Steam Railway.
"Everything that's happening now with the future of rail in our region is based around what Bob and his team worked so hard to establish," she said.
Bob will never be forgotten, as the Southern Downs Steam Railway C17 Locomotive has now been named Bob Keogh. Next time you ride the train, take a minute to remember Bob and the incredible contribution he made to Warwick.