One of the most prominent, respected and loved Queensland timber industry personalities, Charlie Henry, died on Sunday at the Gold Coast. He was 83.
Both inside and outside the industry, he was lauded by a legion of friends he worked with in timber, charity and volunteer organisations and from sporting groups that embraced his love of boating and competitive racing of sports cars and motorbikes.
Founder of wholesale distributor Charlie Henry Timbers Pty Ltd (CHT), he operated under the same banner for more than 30 years before his retirement.
He made his start as a private trader in 1976 after leaving Forest Products Marketing, founded by close friend David Wilkinson.
That year he joined forces with another FPM staffer Chris Hall who, in a partnership, looked after the company’s holding depot on a 40-ha farming property at Roadvale, close to Ipswich.
Recognised by Business Queensland as one of the state’s top 400 companies, CHT carried a diverse product range with more than 50 regular suppliers throughout Australasia.
Charlie called these suppliers “strategic alliances” – alliances with sawmillers, manufacturers, sellers, and merchants – “allowing us to access the widest possible range of timber products for the best possible price.”
His motto was “doing the almost impossible by coordinating production, machining and delivery deadlines in a wide range of species, sizes, grades and quantities. The difficult jobs we do promptly, the almost impossible takes just a little longer.”
He didn’t finish high school; his schooling in wood started as a “Saturday job boy” sweeping up sawdust and shavings in an inner-city factory. Later he took on an apprenticeship as a wood machinist.
But he kept learning, especially after completing a company director’s course at the University of New England in 1994.
Long ago he finished an apprenticeship in the furniture and joinery industry … “so I have a lovely little workshop under the house, which I don’t get much time to play in – perhaps on a very odd occasion,” he told me.
“But it was my education in the timber business that I appreciated the most,” he said.
Charlie always gave full credit for his success to his company secretary – his wife Anne, the mother of their two children David and Linda. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 61.
“That’s when I decided to walk away from the business,” Charlie said in an interview in 2016.
I sold it to a friend for a dollar. This plus all the stock valued at almost half a million dollars.”
He noticed then that many of his friends in the timber business were becoming more conspicuous by their absence.
“A lot of family businesses sadly disappeared over the last decade or so, he recalled. “But a great feature of this industry is that, even after you’ve left it, you’re still connected.
“I have noticed, over time that many of my former colleagues really cottoned on to that. One friend, Don Towerton, has since managed to walk away – to a certain extent – and he now allows his daughter and son to run most of the business.
“So, knowing when to walk away is always a great strategy. That is true today and it’s extremely important. A lot of the businesses that are still around would have implemented that kind of thinking a long time ago. If you weren’t competitive back then, you aren’t in business now.”
Charlie was an associate member of the Queensland Timber Board, an associate member of the Queensland Guild of Furniture Manufacturers, and past president (1980-81) and life member of Brisbane Hoo-Hoo Club 218. His membership number was 80739.
Outside the business, Charlie’s time was devoted to “ships and the sea”. He was a long-time member of Volunteer Marine Rescue Queensland, an organisation that provides marine search and rescue operations to the boating public across 2700 km of the Queensland Coast.
He answered radio calls and give weather warnings. He said at the time: “Sometimes there can be up to 70 boats out there so you want to make sure they all come back in one piece.”
This role extended to the Little Ship Club membership, originally created by the Naval Auxiliary Patrol, which kept Queensland waters safe during World War 2, and the Brisbane Outboard Aquatic Touring Club (B.O.A.T), a friendly fraternity of family sea farers.
His sporting life including racing a collection of sports cars at the Lakeside circuit north of Brisbane and competing astride his BSA Bantam motorbike during night events at the Brisbane Royal showgrounds.
In his last years Charlie became an enthusiastic member of a 10-pin bowling team, the Tinnies.
Linda Henry told Wood Central the family was arranging a special service and a celebration of her father’s life in September. (More details to follow).
Meanwhile, a special tribute from Bill Philp, a life-time friend and business associate who started his Bill Philip’s Specialised Timbers with the help and support of both Charlie Henry and Chris Hall back in those good old days.
“Charlie died on his own terms. He was a good family man, a sharp trader, honest, generous, and a lot of fun. We will miss him dearly.”