Obituary: John McKeown

Founder of Ireland-based vehicle manufacturer Romaquip recently passed away peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones on 2 May 2023.

John McKeown landscape with truckJohn McKeown was well-known to many in the UK recycling industry and beyond. Born into an industry that was yet to realise its full potential, his foresight and inventiveness led to the inception of Romaquip in 1984, initially producing salt spreaders and snow ploughs. By 1990, the firm transitioned into manufacturing stainless steel salt spreaders, a testament to John's commitment to quality and durability.

John's visionary approach culminated in the development and patenting of a kerbside recycling vehicle, the Kerb-Sort, which included ground-breaking innovations that revolutionised the industry. The delivery of the first fleet of Kerb-Sorts to Conwy in 2011 marked a significant milestone for the company and the industry at large.

John was utterly committed to making the product succeed.  He personally travelled all over the UK to assist with demonstrations to Councils, talking directly to crews and listening to feedback, continually improving the vehicle, at times to the frustration of his own staff who had to perpetually change the design and build process.

Under John's leadership, the company became the clear market leader, with a commanding 90 per cent market share and over 1,000 vehicles currently in operation across more than 50 local authorities.
In 2022, John guided the company to another significant achievement – the launch of the first fully electric Kerb-Sort vehicle. This leap forward showcased John's commitment to sustainability, further cementing the company's position at the forefront of the industry.

John was not only a great innovator but also a compassionate leader. Colleagues fondly remember him as demanding yet kind – always striving for excellence while ensuring everyone felt valued. Despite the challenges posed by his health in recent years, he remained deeply involved in every project, keeping abreast of all developments and ensuring the company's ongoing success.

John was a deeply family-oriented man, a trait evident in the company's ethos. His son, Stephen, now carries on his legacy – leading a team that includes sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews of the original staff who embarked on this journey with John back in 1984.

John's relentless pursuit of excellence, dedication to his staff, and unyielding commitment to his customers – who he preferred to call friends – have left an indelible mark on the industry. His legacy will continue to guide and inspire those fortunate enough to have known and worked with him.

John's passing is a great loss not only to his family but also to the many friends, colleagues, and industry professionals whose lives he touched. He will be deeply missed, but his impact will continue to resonate in the industry he helped shape.