Veteran SAA man turns 90

Len Westoby’s bright blue eyes twinkle as he shares details of his interesting life, the career that gave him wings and the family he holds dear to his heart, ahead of his 90th birthday on May 5.

A resident of Rand Aid’s Thornhill Manor for 18 years, Len spent 44 years at South African Airways (SAA). He followed in his dad George’s footsteps, who had been working as a civilian for the South African Airforce, before joining SAA (then Union Airways) in 1935. At the start of WWII, he and other SAA staff members were transferred to the airforce.

Len was born in the Sunnyside Nursing Home in Pretoria and, uncommonly in those days, was delivered by caesarean section. Although a good student, Len loved working with his hands, building model railways and airplanes, and so his dad decided to send him to a trade school, rather than follow a traditional academic education.

In 1947, when Len was 16 and in Standard Nine, his dad suggested he apply for an apprenticeship with SAA, which he successfully did.

“Interestingly enough, one of the other apprentices was Jimmy Sandham, who today also lives at Thornhill Manor,” shares Len.

What followed was a distinguished career, with a young Len realising that he needed to supplement his apprenticeship training with as many other qualifications as he could.

He did course after course and was promoted through the ranks, from aircraft technician to senior management. During this time, he had the opportunity to work in practically all of SAA’s technical divisions.

“I learnt a multitude of skills, saw first-hand the evolution of passenger planes and got to work on iconic aircraft, including the Avro York; Vickers Viscount; various Airbus and Boeing aircraft; and Pratt & Whitney piston and jet engines.”

Highlights of his career include redesigning the Production Planning Division to improve efficiency, rolling out reliability centred maintenance processes, designing Air Mauritius’s maintenance programme and heading up the technical side of SAA’s London office for four years.

“When I returned to South Africa from England, I handled deliveries of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 747-400,” Len recalls.

He retired at the age of 60 and did some work for Bophuthatswana Air before working with his son, John, who was a chartered accountant.

Len and his wife Jean married when he was 22 and she just 20. They settled in Northmead, Benoni, and later moved to Edenvale. Both houses were designed by Len, who says this is another of his passions.

Jean was a career woman of note, qualifying as an accountant and holding increasingly senior jobs over the years.

They had two children, John, who has sadly passed away from cancer, and Moira, who lives near to her dad and visits often. Jean passed away shortly after her 80th birthday.

Len has six grandchildren – all of whom have university education – and five great grandchildren.

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