Arthur Kennedy is one of the laundry industry’s pioneers, the man who helped to start the UK textile rental sector as well as being in the vanguard of many of industry’s influential bodies.

He was a founder member of the Worshipful Company of Launderers, instrumental in the progress of trade associations and responsible for the setting up of a Benevolent fund.

The awarding of the OBE in June 1991 marked a well-deserved public recognition of his achievements for the industry.

His initiative was evident right from the start of his career at 14. As one of eight children, he had no opportunity to continue formal education beyond the then school leaving age. He went first to Pollards, the shop fitter, but felt uncomfortable with the swearing of the older men, and, with his mother’s permission, soon found himself another job. Noticing the Clissold laundry at Drayton Park (part of the Advance Group) on his way home, he went in to ask for work and joined as a van boy the following Monday. “ I was very glad I did,” he says and reflects: “ I must have been a very bright van boy because I was soon promoted to looking after the girls in the sorting department.” He eventually became supervisor at the North Finchley branch.

After serving in the Royal Navy between 1940 –1945, he returned to Advance Laundry, working under Ted Nichols, whom he describes as a fine manager.

However, as he felt unable to progress further, he left to join the Old English Laundry at Windsor as manager, and later became general manager, and eventually managing director at Sunnybank, Vauxhall.

Arthur Kennedy’s championship of the textile rental movement is well known and one of the important achievements of his career. Quick to spot the potential of what was then a growing sector in the USA, he bought the New Era Laundry in 1986, for £86,000.

At the time he thought he was buying experience of linen hire, which he felt would be the future for the UK industry. However, the business had not been well run.

“It was not linen hire as we know it and took us a long time to unscramble what we had bought, but we did and then branched out.” The business, consisting of five laundries, was eventually sold to the Davis Service Group.

On the 30th anniversary of New Era, he was presented with a framed scroll detailing his career.

Arthur Kennedy has always been a great achiever and when asked about this, he lists specific areas. The first is his association with the Worshipful Company of Launderers. He was a founder member of the Worshipful Company, (formed 1960) and became master in 1977, the last of the founders to hold the post. “It was a great privilege to be master in 1977 because we received a Grant of Livery that year from the Alderman and Court. We gowned all members (about 120 – 130) at the ceremony.”

His OBE was a great personal achievement. “Because I could not go into further education, I did not have any letters after my name.” Now he had. “It was very sad that mother could not have been there.”

He marked the occasion with a private family lunch party and gave a dinner at the Chandlers Hall. The guest list had to be restricted to presidents and past presidents of the various associations with which Arthur had been associated and so the 93 guests included only three ladies – Anne Matthias, Arthur’s personal secretary, Ruth Oliver, wife of the late Richard Oliver of London Linen and “my darling wife Joyce”.

Arthur Kennedy is justly proud of his active role in developing trade associations. He was the first president of the Institute of British Launderers (IBL) to serve on three separate occasions, and so the IBL named the council chamber in his honour.

“I was then president of the British Linen Hire Association which I helped to found.” Eventually he became president the Textile Services Association. He has also been chairman and then national chairman of the young launderers.

As well as serving as BLHA president, he was its chairman for 10 years and responsible for expanding the membership so it became a truly national body.

Arthur Kennedy believes strongly in the value of trade associations. “They protect the whole of the industry and they are structured organisations. They have councils and committees. When I was first president the trade association had a staff of 25. Sadly that kind of staff level has gone.”

Arthur Kennedy has clearly found his career rewarding in all senses, but he also felt he wanted to give something back to help other members of the industry.

“Such wealth and assets as I have, have come for the 50 years I spent in the industry, so I thought it would be nice to help its members educate their children.”

He therefore started the Arthur Kennedy Benevolent Fund. Giving a personal donation of £100,000 would he hoped encourage some of his contemporaries to remember the fund in their wills.

Sadly this did not happen. The administration of the fund was eventually transferred to the Worshipful Company of Launderers, but it still carries his name and he sits on the Benevolent Fund committee.

As well as actively serving in trade associations, Arthur Kennedy also served as convenor of the Whitsters Club from 1976 – 1987.“When I stepped down, I was the club’s longest serving convenor,” he said.

Why has he taken such an active role outside and beyond his formal career? “Because I am a busybody,” he replies with a touch of humour, adding that: “I have a degree of leadership, so I was a natural choice for the Whitsters convenor.”

Remembering the industry changes he has seen, he believes the most significant have been the development of unit drycleaners, and the development of textile rental – now the biggest sector of the industry.

But the industry has also missed an opportunity with the decline of the domestic laundry service. There are few who do this now, he says and the market has allowed this chance to slip away as in many instances the domestic sector was only offering a mass produced inferior service that people don’t want.

He also regrets the lack of “characters” in the industry. Thirty years ago, there were many entrepreneurs, he says, but most have gone and the industry is now governed by men in grey suits who don’t get involved.

He believes the future will see the bigger companies grow while the number of smaller ones declines.

But he does have advice for those coming into it. “Fortunately you can still make good progress without a degree. I am an example of that.

“There’s no substitute for hard work. If you don’t have the right technical skills others do and there are evening classes to fill the gap.”

Arthur Kennedy has clearly followed his own advice. He still attends industry events including conferences, the Whitsters club meeting and, of course, the Worshipful Company of Launderers, which he describes as the premier body for the industry, providing a place for everybody within it. The final toast of following Court meetings and dinners is: “The Worshipful Company of Launderers root and branch, may it flourish for ever” and, he adds, it shows every sign of doing so.

Despite devoting his entire working life to the industry, Arthur Kennedy held several non-executive directorships of various companies and remains to this day a senior non-executive director of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach Group of Companies.

He was an active member of the Round table and is a life-long member of the London Rotary Club, the first Rotary Club to be formed outside North America. He also became national president of the Association of Ex-Tablers.