By Jim McCloskey
Two recent obituaries caught my eye, one for Herman Silverman, who passed away in May at age 97, the other for John Kelley Jr., who was just 67 when he died in June.
I don’t believe I ever met Herman Silverman, but I do recall hearing his name so often that I felt like I had after I first joined the industry in 1986. He’s always been part of my sense of the industry’s history, and whenever his name came up back then, I noticed that it was invariably with a tone of deference and respect.
In time and through conversations with people who had worked with or for him, I developed a clear sense of the extent of Mr. Silverman’s influence on an industry and product he loved. I learned that he had a degree in landscape design and began Sylvan Pools (now Anthony & Sylvan) in 1950, which was cool enough. But he also started building swimming pools for east-coast celebrities at about the same time Hollywood was discovering swimming pools out west – and therein hangs the tale of the industry’s explosive growth through the 1950s and ’60s.
More recently, I’ve learned much of what I know about Mr. Silverman as a person in conversations with Mike Stachel, who worked with him and maintained a close relationship with him long after Mr. Silverman left the pool industry behind in 1969. I’ve enjoyed listening to everything Mike has had to say about his friend and mentor’s intelligence, his profound graciousness and the thoughtful way he went about living a long, eventful life. Mike is himself a man of substance, and to hear him speak of Mr. Silverman with such deep and abiding respect and admiration led me to realize I’d missed out on something valuable by not knowing the great man personally.
In contrast, I knew John Kelley well, having met him shortly after I started as editor at Pool & Spa News in 1986. Not only did I come to appreciate his passion for the industry and his business: I also came to admire his dedication to the task of making what was then known as the National Spa & Pool Institute a substantial channel for expressing the industry’s core values and working toward its most meaningful goals.
On an entirely different level, I have John to thank for some of the finest culinary experiences of my lifetime. He was a great dinner companion, ready to laugh and share his deep and abiding love of fine food – and for wine of just about every variety. He was also a good man to know when a remote restaurant was involved, because in my experience he never got lost either coming or going in an era long before GPS made us all into expert navigators.
My favorite Kelley story: During a long-ago Atlantic City Show, John and his wife Beth invited me on a quest to find New Jersey’s leading winery. It took some doing, but John proved his infallibility as a roadmaster and we made it – although I think all of us wished we hadn’t. The wine wasn’t undrinkable, but it was challenging nonetheless. Beth and I kept quiet when opinions were asked, but John was generous in his comments and more knowledgable and encouraging by far than I ever could have been. It was a pure form of kindness – unexpectedly sweet, just like the wine.
I will miss both of these men, Mr. Silverman because I know how much he meant to a dear friend of mine, Mr. Kelley because I know how much he meant to me.
With condolences and best wishes to those left with richer stores of memory than mine, I bid both gentlemen farewell.