Keith’s comeback

_MG_8408Keith Christensen (centre) with Cathy (left) and Derya (right)

Keith was one of only two employees who had the opportunity to tell their personal life stories on stage before Her Excellency the Governor of NSW, Professor Marie Bashir, at the official opening of Figtree Conference Centre. Although this was ages ago, Keith’s extensive, award-winning career in hospitality deserves to be repeated.

Climbing

Keith had been a top-level sommelier (a professional wine steward) up in Brisbane, worked at The Greek Club restaurant for eight months as Function Manager (making major cash in the process) and has served many of Australia’s glitterati along the way: politicians, musicians, actors and other superstars. The late Kerry Packer, for instance, was one of Keith’s exceptionally generous patrons.

Keith was also well-recognised within his industry on an official level, winning Waiter of the Year five times in a row and receiving an Australia Day Award in 1977 for contributions to Hospitality. There’s far more to his role than serving food and drinks, though, and Keith shared one of his many wise insights on his success:

“I know how to put on a show and make it pay for itself!” Keith smiles.

Crashing

But just as his stellar career hit its peak, Keith was pitched one of life’s curve balls: during the Sydney Olympics, right when his talents were heavily in demand, Keith sustained a near-fatal heart attack. Fortunately he was revived, but as often happens, Keith’s brain had been starved of oxygen for too long and sustained damage. People who suffer bad heart attacks or strokes are also very susceptible to depression and, in a double-whammy, this is precisely what happened to Keith. Since that dark point Keith has relentlessly worked his way back into form and his senior role at Platform 10 (for the former PRA) and RichmondPRA’s new Figtree Conference Centre is a big part of that.

When Panorama’s staff are still in bed, Keith has already finished setting up tablecloths with fancy little origami corners. Despite being an early riser, nighttime functions don’t scare him, either. But work isn’t Keith’s entire life.

“I’m a movie buff who has seen every James Bond film,” says Keith. “I’m a member of the Hoyts Movie Club – actually, my niece works there – and I have a rewards card. It’s my hobby.”

Keith is also involved in a great thing called the PreEmploy Alumni club, which runs functions and group outings each month for people that have graduated from PreEmploy.

“It’s good to be able to do something like this on a pension,” Keith says. “We put a bit aside every fortnight towards New Year’s Eve at the Hilton!”

Keith says work is pouring in: bookings for the Figtree Conference Centre have tripled since its opening. Keith puts this down to the great staff he works with.

“People who book repeat functions have been known to ask whether we still have the same staff as last time. Well, the answer is yes, though we’ve picked up some extra people along the way as well.”

Keith recalls: “One person who came for a function said afterwards that they couldn’t believe that people with mental illnesses were serving them…we did just as good a job as anyone else!”

Keith is looking to the future, and considering further education.

“I hope to go back and do a diploma in Human Resources Management.”

-Keith spoke to Warren Heggarty

Need to book a function? How about Figtree Conference Centre?

Phone (02) 9393 9051

Fax 02 8756 5050

Mobile 0458 229 894

Email figtree@richmondpra.org.au

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