A character. A legend. A mentor.
All words used to describe boxing instructor Bob McLaughlin - which he dismisses with a wave of his hand.
The softly but deliberately spoken McLaughlin has been an integral part of East Maitland's indoor fitness centre Hit N Dip since 1995. While the gym's doors have now closed and the site is set to be redeveloped, McLaughlin is not hanging up his boxing gloves just yet.
At 80, he's still got a lot of fight left in him.
The former Australian amateur light middlerweight boxing champion has been at the gym almost every weekday for the past 26 years. In recent years he's made the drive from his Boat Harbour home, where he lives with wife Valda, often accompanied by his cattle dog.
He came for the kids.
On his last day at the iconic gym there's a steady stream of men - young and not so young - waiting to shake his hand and say goodbye. He's quick to laugh with the young men, exchanging plenty of light hearted banter and sharing in private jokes that have been years in the making.
"He still does chin ups and the bench," said one.
"He's a character that's for sure, a legend," said Daniel Leayr from North Rothbury who called in to the gym on his way to the Tim Tszyu fight in Newcastle that night, to see McLaughlin
"Ask him about his father," says another.
McLaughlin is the son of Ron McLaughlin, a renowned amateur fighter, welterweight champion of Australia in 1941. McLaughlin started learning the craft from his father around age 6 when the family lived in Sydney.
"I started to develop a real knowledge of the game," said McLaughlin.
"You've got to know how the punches work and then you practice and then your practice more and then the balance comes in; you must understand balance."
McLaughlin was nominated as a likely starter for the Rome Olympic Games in 1960, the year Muhammad Ali won gold. But this was thwarted when he tried out for Western Suburbs rugby league club, earning a three year contract. As a professional rugby league player he lost his amateur status and the chance to go to the Olympics.
He joined the police force and also worked in the police boys clubs.
McLaughlin played rugby league for Maitland in 1965 and 1966, coming from Sydney on the recommendation of Kel O'Shea. He settled in Keinbah with his family and still has a lucerne farm near the Long Bridge at Maitland. He was in charge of Maitland Police Boys Club for a period of time and also worked at the Kurri boys home.
"He was out of that era when football was real football," said former Maitland teammate Brian Burke.
"He played against the greats of the late 50s and 60s - Kel O'Shea, Peter Diamond, blokes of that ilk."
Burke said McLaughlin was a fitness fanatic and brought something more than his talent as a back row forwardto Maitland - he introduced the players to circuit training and weights, something then unheard of on the local footy scene.
While he didn't win a premiership with Wests - "we came close", he said - he did take home the trophy with Maitland in 1965.
"You know that big game, with Provan and Summons, they made the statue of them. I was on the reserve bench for that game," said McLaughlin.
IN THE NEWS:
He's referring to the iconic NRL trophy made from a photograph taken of the two mud-soaked players following the 1963 NSW Rugby League grand final between long term rivals Western Suburbs and St George.
McLaughlin was an all-round athlete and a keen boxer but he wasn't known for violence on the footy field. There's a few notable exceptions. One he relayed with mirth:
"I was on the ground and this bloke came over the top of me and then, bam, split my forehead," he said.
"I jumped up and the linesman's run in and he's seen what happened.
"We get over to the referee and he says 'now look, what do you want to do, fight or play football?'
"Well, I owed him one didn't I."
Bang ... he hit him. Both players were then sent off. When he got to the judiciary he pleaded no memory of the incident due to a concussion.
In 1996 he heard the boxing trainer at the indoor gym and fitness centre at East Maitland was leaving so he went over to Green Hills to talk to Hit N Dip owner, Bob Geoghegan.
"He had it all set out beautiful," he said of the downstairs gym. "I just walked straight in."
He said he never left because it was "too good."
"Tougher than nails" is one description of McLaughlin, backed up by a story of probably his only run in with ill health.
He was 40 when he experienced some bad chest pain and after a trip to Cessnock Hospital he was transferred to Newcastle where he spent at least one night in intensive care with a diagnosis of pericarditis, inflammation around the heart.
"They give me two pills," he says matter-of-factly.
"That was on the Monday or Tuesday. On the Wednesday I came out of intensive care and was back in the gym that afternoon."
His physical shape would put men decades younger to shame.
"Why I'm like I am is because of what I've done," he said. "The boxing.
"It's to train like a fighter and to use quick muscles and your balance."
While McLaughlin shrugs off the suggestion he has been a role model, Gym manager Sally Beavis who's late father Bob Geoghegan hired McLaughlin all those years ago, said she has seen first hand over the years the 'huge difference' he has made.
"He would have changed the lives of lots of people over the years," she said.
"He's so well respected".
McLaughlin says he will miss the kids.
"So many kids I look after and I've seen grow up and how they turn out and there didn't seem to produce too many duds," he said.
"They all turned out good. They've all got jobs and they all have their houses and I guess it kept them off the streets.
While he's leaving Hit N Dip he's not giving up exercise.
"You've got to train," he said.
"I knew it had to come," he said of the gym closure.
"Nothing goes on forever."
As the interview McLaughlin came to end when we looked over to see a steady stream of people waiting. His fans wanted to say goodbye.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: