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From three weeks to 40 years: Longest-serving worker retires from The Catholic Leader

Debbie Preuss retiring

Faithful service: Debbie Preuss has worked for The Catholic Leader for 40 years and is retiring. Photo: Emilie Ng

IT was only meant to be a three-week job.

In 1978 Debbie Preuss applied for a job with The Catholic Leader, a newspaper she had grown up reading in her hometown of Allora, on Queensland’s Darling Downs.

The 58-year-old moved to Brisbane when she was 18, staying with her aunt and uncle.

The pair encouraged her to find work using the phone book to choose organisations she recognised, and inquire about any jobs that might be going.

“I sent a letter to Ansett because they were the first and I knew The Catholic Leader because Mum and Dad used to buy it every week, so I wrote a letter to them,” Mrs Preuss said.

She was offered a three-week temporary job in the accounts department, filling in for a staff member who was on holidays.

“Well, the last Friday of the three weeks I just thought I was leaving so I said goodbye to my boss; I said ‘See you later’ and he said, ‘See you on Monday’,” Mrs Preuss said.

“So I came back on Monday and I’ve come back every Monday since.”

In fact Mrs Preuss has been back not just on Mondays, but every day for the past 40 years, only leaving for 18 months to work for Brisbane archdiocese’s finance office.

She has served under three archbishops and six editors, and worked with countless sub-editors, journalists, advertising officers and administration staff in two locations, firstly in Fortitude Valley and now in the Brisbane CBD.

In her 40-year career, Mrs Preuss has been responsible for sending newspapers on time to parishes and individual subscribers from around Australia and overseas.

Back when she started, the presses were printing up to 18,000 copies of The Catholic Leader.

One of the major changes she witnessed was the introduction of the computer to the newsrooms, which she said “certainly helped” in her job of addressing subscriptions.

“Well, first it was all done by hand by an old machine that you had to use your foot and put the paper through and then click a button and the little block fell down and printed out the page,” Mrs Preuss said.

“And it took a long time to print however many subscriptions they had then.

“It was called an addressograph machine; then we went to computers.

“It certainly helped a lot.”

Mrs Preuss’ boss, on the other hand, was against the digital transformation “right from the start”.

“Laurie Hobbs was my boss for all that time, and he died a couple of years ago; he resigned years ago too – he never wanted to go to the computer,” Mrs Preuss said.

“He was an accountant so he always liked doing things the old way.

“So he went on holidays one time and someone from up here in the archdiocesan office went down and had a look at the way we were doing things and bought two computers which we started off and changed us all to do the accounts.

“He (Mr Hobbs) came back and freaked out but then he had to learn how to use it.”

But perhaps the most memorable outcome of working for The Catholic Leader was finding the love of her life, Frank Preuss, who worked for the newspaper’s press factory.

“I used to have to go to the factory all the time and deliver parcels and things from upstairs,” Mrs Preuss said.

“He (Frank) just liked the look of me, and just kept talking to me.”

When he asked her out for the first time at a staff Christmas party, Mrs Preuss did what most shy country girls do.

“I thought ‘I don’t want to go out with him’,” she said. “I said to another guy there, ‘Can you keep him away from me because I don’t want anything to do with him’.”

Twenty-five years and one dinner date later, Mr and Mrs Preuss are happily married and are ready to step into retirement together.

The pair will retire in Hervey Bay with plans to travel around Australia, spending time with her parents who are in their 80s, and of course, continue reading The Catholic Leader.

Mrs Preuss called on parish priests to encourage parishioners to buy the paper and stay connected to news and issues affecting the Church.

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