Secrets of a vital life

“I may be 82 but I still feel like I’m 35,”

says Malcolm Ogilby, builder of over 1000 houses.

We are sitting in front of a freshly made platter of scones and cream at the counter bench of a kitchen that he has recently installed, and  I am deeply intrigued to know the secret of his youthfulness and vitality. But that will have to wait. First there is another story I have come to hear. It is that of our hostess Gwendy,  a lively woman with bright eyes and an air of warm serenity.

Her story is also one of strength and vitality, but most intriguingly, of how this gleaming new kitchen in which our morning tea has been baked, helped her maintain hope during her battle with cancer.

Gwendy with kitchen builder Malcolm Ogilby

Gwendy with kitchen builder Malcolm Ogilby

In January 2013, after a period of hearing loss and dizziness, Gwendy was diagnosed with  Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, a rare form of cancer which had manifested as malignant cells around her mastoid bone and inner ear. Facing a long journey of distressing consults, surgery, and radiotherapy, Gwendy decided that she needed a major distraction to get her through it all,  and also something to look forward to for when this was all over. So she began to design herself the brand new kitchen that she had always dreamed of. From then on much of her free time was spent in planning every detail,  and when no-one was home she would stagger around using a walking stick for balance, re-measuring the space  and refining her design.  When she felt she had worked it all out she sought quotes from a number of builders, but found them mostly more intent on their own ideas than on realising hers. Eventually she was referred to Malcolm Ogilby, who was not only able to immediately understand her plans, but also build on them in ways  that exactly suited her needs. She describes the final period of design as very enjoyable. This and her religious faith helped carry her through.

Installation day arrived and Gwendy is deeply moved as she describes how, not long after Malcolm’s team set to work, she received a phone call from the oncologist telling her that the surgery and radiotherapy treatment had not been fully successful. Some cancer remained. “As I burst into tears in the kitchen the building supervisor just stood up and hugged me,” she says, recalling her sense of gratitude and surprise.

At this point Malcolm, who has been listening encouragingly, interjects that he would have been surprised if any of his staff had reacted differently.

Gwendy’s kitchen

Gwendy’s kitchen

After a course of chemotherapy, further surgery and many more consultations, the hardest part of Gwendy’s journey now looks to be over. And the beautiful kitchen she designed to distract her from her health issues  provides all the joy she had imagined as she brings home fresh ideas from the many cookery classes she has started to attend.

As for Malcolm Ogilby, whose kitchen played such a role in this story, I decide it is time to ask him a few questions. I learn that at 82 not only is he far from thinking about retiring, instead he has just moved into new premises and is passionate about expanding further. No longer building whole houses, his company now specialises in quality renovations – from the simple installation of a new door or window to a full house make over – and of course KBLs (I learn it stands for Kitchens, Bathrooms and Laundries.) Offering his clients quality products and quality workmanship, Malcolm describes his team as “mature men who have been with him for many years  – neat, clean, nice blokes who even vacuum up after they have finished.”

He goes on to tell me that over a period of 45 years he built 1012 homes, from as far south as Esperance to Kununurra in the north. During his busiest period Malcolm even obtained his own aircraft and pilot’s licence, so he could land directly on the farms of many of his rural clients. He estimates in the course of quoting, supervising and inspecting all those jobs, he has travelled over 5 million kilometres by road – and more by air! Thats about 12.5 times the distance from earth to the moon.


He’s seen many changes in the industry over the years. When he started, country houses in WA were small, timber framed boxes. ‘We introduced modern designs and features from the city and changed all that.’  In 1973 he entered the transportable home market, and revolutionised it in the same way.

Our time together is nearly over so I ask Malcolm the question I have wanted to ask since first meeting him: what is the secret to his seemingly eternal youth?

He chuckles and his answer is simple: ‘“Having a wonderful wife.” He also has four sons, of whom he speaks proudly. He pauses for a moment then adds, “also being active, not drinking or smoking, and above all, being happy. Oh, and remembering to whistle and sing.”

Ogilby Builders was founded by his father in 1927. Malcolm’s own builder’s licence was issued in 1955 and is believed to be the longest still registered in Australia.

by Matthew Dwyer

34 Malcolm Ogilby Builder 19x2

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