Published: 00:00, 05 April 2015
The future of a successful printing company hung in the balance when its popular boss suddenly died at the age of 50.
Businessman Tom Fogarty, who set up TT Litho, left the business to his widow Sue, who handled the accounts from their home. Two of his three daughters were still studying at school and the third had already carved her own career in a high-flying job in London.
But it did not take long for the close-knit family to come to a decision and take over the reins of the Rochester printworks.
Sue Fogarty, who was his teenage sweetheart, remembers helping print plates in his mum’s greenhouse in Strood.
She said: “The girls, and Tom before he died, said it was up to me. So I made a decision.
“We had 14 people working here at the time and they all depended on the job to pay their mortgage.”
Sue, 62, moved into the office in Corporation Street where she took over the helm with Tom’s long-term partner Allen Trice.
Then another breakthrough came when their eldest daughter Lucy decided to give up her job as a civil servant for the Department for Education and join the company making use of her legal expertise.
Lucy, 36, a mother of two, is now a full-time director at the business which is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an annual turnover now approaching £1 million.
Although her new role is different from her previous job she explained it was not “exactly worlds apart”.
Lucy, who lives in Goddington Road, Strood, said : “I started to come along here when I was about five when my dad used to pick me up from school. When I was about 13 I got a Saturday job helping out with filing and as soon as I passed my driving test I started to do deliveries. “I now realise this job was in my veins and I just took a diversion to get here.”
Tom had talked about what would happen if he passed away during a family holiday the year before his untimely death from an inoperable brain tumour in 2002. Tom left the company to Sue, but with no experience of being in charge of a company she welcomed Lucy’s decision to come on board.
Sue met Tom when she was 17 and he was 19 at a social club in Gillingham, now known as the 442 Club. Tom, whose father was a Fleet Street printer and his brother a compositor, undertook a five year apprenticeship at FA Clements near Luton Arches after leaving school. She said: “I remember when he started off in his mum’s greenhouse I used to hold the arc light for him which was wired up to an extension through the kitchen window.”
TT Litho, which still retains the distinctive black and white logo which Tom designed, has a customer base including national charities, High Street banks, the NHS, museums and schools. Tom, who was avid Gills fan, also used to print the club’s match programme for many years.
Lucy said: “We have obviously had to react to the digital revolution in the printing industry. But like with iPods and Kindles, people still buy books.
“We’ve had customers who have stopped an order because they say staff can read their newsletter online, but then they came back and re-ordered because people preferred to read it. At the end of the day we are human and people still like to talk, feel and touch.”
Lucy added that her 10-strong team got much satisfaction working on a major contact, like the government package they did for 2012 London Olympics which went out to half a million schools across the UK, but they also enjoyed designing and printing cards and invitations to individual personal requirements.
Her sisters Jenny, 29 and Ellen, 31 have both chosen to go into teaching. And with her nine-year-old son, Tom more interested in being an international troubleshooter than a printer, it’s too early to say whether the family business will be handed on to the next generation of Fogartys.
Lucy said: “I’ve got a few years left in me and I love my job. In 10 years I can see us bigger and better.”
Sue, who lives in Blue Bell Hill, is still actively involved in the company. She said: “It is very much a family firm and people who work here never tend to leave. I would never have imagined 13 years ago that I would be sitting here feeling confident and positive, in Tom’s chair and at his desk.”