A challenging year, 2020 has brought many struggles and shocks. Among this, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Owen Flynn, an industry colleague and friend. In memory of his wonderful character, Contamac’s founder, John McGregor, shares some fond stories and memories of Owen.
I do not recall when I first met Owen, but then it would have been in the early 1980’s so perhaps I may be forgiven. Owen was working for City Crown selling their contact lens lathes and travelling globally, bringing him into contact with lens manufacturers and building what he referred to as “the Lab List”. In my innocence, I initially thought this was an international publication. Nothing of the sort, it was the list of companies worldwide whom Owen had grown to know and make excellent contacts with.
In those days there were a host of lens labs and all struggling to obtain equipment, spares, materials and accessories. Owen was able to supply the machinery and spares but everything else came from a multitude of suppliers who often had no connection with the optics industry. The main source of universal supply was slowly growing from Ian Atkins and his company Lamda Ltd. Owen realized that he had a great opportunity set out in front of him: he was travelling the world, meeting all these companies with multiple requirements, and Owen started to assist them by providing supplies. Before long Owen realized that he had a ready-made market and people whom he knew, so having set up his new business, Owen parted company with City Crown and Richdome 87 came into existence.
The one thing that Owen could not easily obtain was a supply of contact lens materials and that was when Owen learned that I had set up a company to manufacture them. By this time there were a number of other small companies manufacturing, but Owen and I had a firm relationship at that time and so Owen became the first customer of Specialist Polymers Ltd, the company that became Contamac Ltd.
Owen continued to purchase Contamac materials for many years and Contamac obtained additional products and accessories from Owen. There was always a warmth with Owen, and indeed whenever a customer needed something, usually obscure and potentially unobtainable, we never hesitated to put them in touch with Owen who always seemed to either have it or could obtain it rapidly.
I will always remember as will many other people, arriving at one of the many optics exhibitions and easily finding Owens’ distinctive stand, loaded with an amazing variety of optical objet d’art, decked with literature that bathed the area in yellow light reflected from the bright yellow wall linings on which the advertising was printed. Always good company, known by everyone, a mine of information (especially regarding the dogs or the horses) and despite Owen’s Irish heritage, he could hold his liquor.
He not only led a varied business life but was seen in his underpants outside the Glasgow hotel at the 2008 EFCLIN congress when the hotel fire alarm sounded at dawn, and he escaped injury when his San Francisco hotel collapsed in the 1989 earthquake, depositing him on a floor level six or seven lower than his room. Our industry has seen many characters over the years and Owen was certainly one, he will be missed, I certainly miss him.John McGregor