A significant chapter in the history of Signs Publishing ended on August 30 with the retirement of its production manager.
Ray Portbury began work as an apprentice bookbinder at Signs on January 10, 1967, and retired after just short of 51 years and 8 months of service, the longest-serving employee in the 133-year history of the church-owned printing company.
“It doesn’t seem that long—and I have enjoyed it the whole time,” said Mr Portbury. “The whole journey has been about working for the Lord and serving the Church. I count it a privilege to have been able to work here for the Church for this long.”
He admits that he is looking forward to “days without deadlines”, but he will miss working with what he has come to regard as his extended family. “Over the years, we have cried together, laughed together and—of course—worked together,” he reflected.
However, family is also a literal part of his experience at Signs. His aunt, uncle, brother and two sisters also worked at Signs and his daughter still does. And he met his wife Norlene when she was also working at the publishing house.
As production manager for more than 19 years, Mr Portbury has been responsible for the regular delivery of Adventist Record to churches around the South Pacific. “It was only once in that time—in the mid-2000s—that Record did not go out on time, when our two mailing ladies were both sick and we simply could not get it sent,” he reported. “We had a huge number of phone calls when Record had not arrived in time for that Sabbath, which reminds us how important Record is for the Church.”
In his role, Mr Portbury has also represented Signs Publishing as the point of contact for many churches, schools, conferences and institutions, but also to the wider printing industry. “We are well known in the printing industry in Melbourne and we are held in high regard,” he said. “They see that we are unique in the industry, that we have a sense of family and high standards in what we print and how we do business.”
According to Signs manager Andrew Irvine, Mr Portbury has made an incredible contribution to the mission of the Church in a practical way in his life’s work. “Ray has felt a strong calling in what he has done, for helping people and serving the needs of the Church—and he will be greatly missed,” said Mr Irvine. “Since he announced his plans to retire, many of our customers have expressed their appreciation for his leadership.”
In reflecting on his years of work at Signs, Mr Portbury talked about the dramatic changes in technology, from hand-binding books to the high-technology machines used today, and the hundreds of staff members he has worked with during the past 50 years. His retirement is another significant moment of change for him and for Signs.
According to Mr Irvine, this is a challenge that Signs is prepared to meet. “We are confident that our new production supervisor Helen Sandbach and our production team will continue to provide a high level of printing service to the Church and our community,” he said.