Cliff Down has mixed feelings about the end of Mary Tavy-based CJ Down coach company which has closed down recently after 100 years of successfully taking children to school and on Sunday outings and even Royal Marines on training missions and returning from the Falklands War.
He inherited the company from his dad and founder Percy in 1968 ‘reluctantly’ and has overseen its success, despite this understandable attitude as a young man.
Cliff and his staff announced the closure, having reached the centenary, and were promptly ‘overwhelmed’ to receive a deluge of letters and cards of thanks and gratitude for all the decades of service, including from Enid Hext, of Bickleigh WI, 42 Commando, of Bickleigh Barracks, and Mount Kelly College’s headteacher after taking pupils since the 1930s.
Cliff said: “I do have mixed emotions about leaving the company and shutting down. It is very sad that we’ve had to come to an end, but I’m 78 and now is the time to call an end. But on the other hand I’m very proud of of what we’ve achieved and the service we’ve given to thousands of children and hundreds of Royal Marines over the years.
“The Sunday school trips were the biggest operations we did in the early days, taking to the beach at Paignton, for instance. We used to take Horrabridge school on annual breaks to France because the head knew the owners,’ he said.
“The highlight is probably bringing back 42 Commando from the Falklands when they landed at RAF St Mawgan. I was made honorary member of the ‘Big M’ for organising it, which is a great honour. There were hundreds of people with banners lining the bridges and cheering us on the way. It was very moving.”
Jim Wakem, CJ Down manager, said: “Like Cliff I feel very sad about the company closing down. . I’ve been here since 1974, first part-time and then full-time since 1990 as a mechanic and filled in as a schools driver. Downs is in my blood and it feels wrong to work anywhere else, so I’ll retire now.”
Cliff said how pleased he was that many of his drivers had got new jobs because there is a nationwide shortage of drivers: “We’re really a big family and drivers stay a long time because of our professionalism and customer service which we’re very proud of.”