On November 17, the pool and spa industry lost a giant. Robert William Lowry passed away in Lima, Peru, after a long battle with a rare respiratory ailment. He outlived his prognosis by more than two years. He was 75. Bob was a very close friend and an important professional influence. We collaborated on numerous articles, and I had the honor of working with him on three of his 19 books and never stopped learning from him.
I first came to know Bob, or more accurately know about him, in September 1989, at Pool Industry Expo, a service-related trade show, which was in San Jose, Calif. He was teaching a four-hour morning water chemistry class on the first day of the show. At the time, he was four years into a remarkably successful run as co-publisher of Service Industry News, where he wrote in-depth articles about how to care for pool and spa water. I had been recently hired by Pool & Spa News as an associate editor. In other words, I was working for a direct competitor.
A newcomer to the industry, I was encouraged to attend Bob’s class, without making my presence known. Sitting in the back of a room filled to standing-room-only, it was clear as polished pool water that Bob was a celebrity in the service industry. There was a buzz of anticipation and when he was introduced, the audience responded with enthusiastic and sustained applause.
I may have been largely ignorant of the topic, but I certainly knew a lot about teachers — bad, good and great. Bob was a great teacher, and leader. He was elevating the knowledge and dignity of the pool-service profession by directly instructing his followers how to succeed in doing their jobs, organizing the topic, providing detail in a practical and accessible way — and the service community loved him for it.
We did not meet at that show, but I became a regular reader. At that time, the service segment of the industry had been largely under-served by the trade press. Located in Southern California, the land of the independent service guy or gal, Bob was at the epicenter of an industry niche that was craving exactly the information he was providing in print and in the classroom.
The publication I was working for had been trying to catch up with Bob and his co-publisher David Dickman by putting an editor on the beat. I was the third unwitting soul to man this unenviable post. I did my best to hold my own, but in that segment of the industry, there was no question who was the most trusted source.
Our 32-year friendship began six months later at the Western Pool & Spa Show in Pasadena, where I attended his class for the second time. After the class, I introduced myself. He politely said he knew who I was back in San Jose, because Bob just knew what was going on around him. That’s part of who he was — that acute awareness.
Over the years, he founded two chemical companies where he formulated over 90 products, and went on to pretty much define the applied science of pool and spa chemistry. It was quite a career.
On October 21, just shy of a month before he passed, he and I recorded a 2.5-hour conversation in which he gave a detailed and revealing account of both his personal background and his career. I had known him for over three decades, during which time we became very close friends, but I was surprised by the gaps in my knowledge. (An edited version of the interview is in the works and will be available soon.)
I will miss him and value him for all of my days. Every time I write something about water treatment. My heart goes out to his lovely wife, Sylvia.