South Okanagan loses beloved business owner and firefighter following cancer battle | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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South Okanagan loses beloved business owner and firefighter following cancer battle

A photo of Rob Somerville in his element.
Image Credit: Dan Walton/Courtesy of Oliver Chronicle

Things hadn’t changed for decades in Robert Somerville’s life and that was exactly how he liked it.

He was the owner of Oliver Printing since 1980, he was a member of the Okanagan Falls Volunteer Fire Department for 26 years, the past four vehicles he owned were all red Ford Rangers.

“He was a man that really didn’t like change,” said his wife Teresa Somerville. They were together for nearly 42 years. “He reluctantly started using computers but he was a man that did not like change.”

Rob died of cancer earlier this month at the age of 71. The fire department referred to it as “a result of a work-related illness,” on its Facebook page.

Around his print shop, Rob was famous for undercharging. On one occasion, he spent a few minutes helping a customer send a fax and he charged the man $1.

The customer politely said something to the effect of, “I don’t want to tell you how to run your business, but the big print shop in Penticton charges several times your rate. I don’t think people would mind if you wanted to raise your price.”

But Rob just shrugged.

“He was so dedicated to everybody he did printing for, that’s why he held on so long,” Teresa said.

Audrey Mayer, who also worked in the same office, said Rob realized how important his services could be, and that he wanted to make sure they were available to everyone who needed them.

“He did it for so cheap because he figured, where else would people get it done?”

Mayer remembers him having a good sense of humour, which made it fun to get him riled up about politics or current events.

Rob’s red Ford Rangers always had standard transmissions, roll-up windows, no air condition and nothing to listen to except the radio.

“None of his vehicles had any of those fancy features,” Teresa said. “He figures that fancy stuff can have more things go wrong, then it’s harder to fix and more expensive.”

The unit in downtown Oliver where Rob worked was a major part of his life. It had been a part of his family since he was nine years old, when his father Don Somerville bought the Oliver Chronicle. And it’s where he first met Teresa, after she started working for his dad as a compositor, doing the work of a graphic designer before computers.

READ MORE: Last two daily newspapers in Okanagan will now be printed in Vancouver

At one point when he was younger, Rob was even living in the building, but that arrangement wasn’t very comfortable and only lasted a few months, Teresa said.

Rob and Teresa had three children together, Alan, Jordan and Darren, and 10 grandchildren. Together they had “whole bunch” of fish in a pond and a dog named Sadie who he liked to snuggle with.

“Sadie’s missing him.”

Teresa remembers him having a soft spot for wildlife. While he was private about most of his experiences on the fire department, he once told her about a fire where snakes were killed.

“He was sad to see all the dead rattlesnakes that couldn’t escape the fire. He was quite upset about the wildlife getting hurt.”

The fire department was something he always wanted to do before joining in the mid-1990s, and Teresa said he loved it and remained dedicated until the end.

Another former co-worker from the Chronicle, Kelly Hall, remembers some days he came into work after just a few hours of sleep, having responded to a fire in the middle of the night – and he would still be in a good mood.

“Rob deeply cared about his community and even when he was fighting fires in the middle of the night he always managed to crack a smile, put on his big boy pants and go to work. His generosity was astounding and I will dearly miss him.”

READ MORE: Penticton RCMP seeking identity of printing press owner

Beyond all the people who loved Rob, the connection he had with his workshop and tools was invaluable.

His printing presses look like only a few editions newer than the first models invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th Century.

In his inventory are thousands upon thousands of typeset letters, which were casted in the olden days when every letter, number and symbol for punctuation had to be manually applied to the printer, one at a time, to fill an entire newspaper. Each letter of the alphabet had its typecast come in various font sizes and styles, for lower case and upper case, with multiple copies of most. He didn’t run the typecasting machine in the 2010s but he held onto the machinery until the end.

The equipment Rob did use for commercial printing also looked steampunk. When he printed orders through his old-school machines, the pulsating sounds of the mechanical process made the office sound like an industrial-era factory, and it was a soothing white noise.

Rob’s presses are still in great shape because of his thorough maintenance and he still managed to turn a profit with them while undercharging his customers.

His volunteerism, discounts and genuinely friendly demeanor will be missed by the Oliver and Okanagan Falls communities.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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