Professional Watershaping

A Tribute: Albert “Al” Rizzo (May 27, 1934 – May 3, 2021)
The pool and spa industry recently lost one of its founding fathers and most influential figures, the magnetic, always colorful and sometimes irascible, Al Rizzo.  His career building pools spanned more than six decades, during which time he doggedly worked to unify and elevate the industry he loved. Long-time industry leader, educator and pool builder, Albert “Al” Rizzo passed away May 3, 2021 at his home in South Glastonbury, Conn. He was 86. A lifetime resident of the greater Hartford area, Rizzo began working in construction as a child at his father’s side and, as legend has it, was operating a bulldozer at age 12. He built his first pool in 1955 and would successfully own and operate Rizzo Construction Pool Co. (now Rizzo Pool & Spa) for 62 years. Rizzo served as a pioneering industry association volunteer. He joined the National Swimming Pool Institute (NSPI) and the Northeast Spa and Pool Association (NESPA) in 1958. From the start, he focused his efforts on educating pool builders and forging alliances within the industry, which was largely scattered and disorganized at the time. He served in every elected and appointed position at NESPA, including president from 1984 to 1985, and he held a wide range of posts at NSPI, including education chairman for the Builders Council, serving as one of the lead authors of the institute’s Builders Reference Manual, published in 1998.   According to a statement from NESPA following his death: “Al was one of the 'fathers' of the association and played an instrumental role at the chapter, region, and national level shaping the industry and the association. He served on the NESPA board for over 30 years. Even those who did not get the privilege to meet him knew his legacy and benefited from his work.”   Recognizing the need for a more locally-focused trade association serving the industry in his home state, Rizzo was instrumental in creating the Connecticut Swimming Pool Association (CONSPA) in 1967, and became its first president, where he later served a second term as president from 2004 to 2006. He remained an active member of the Board of Directors of CONSPA until he retired in 2009.   After he retired, Rizzo stayed busy in industry affairs, serving as the CONSPA's Government Relations Committee chair. In an effort to bolster consumer confidence in the industry, he played a crucial role in the passage of the first-ever pool service and pool builders' license requirements by the Connecticut legislature and Department of Consumer Protection, a position that was controversial among some in the industry who resisted the advent of government oversight.   In an interview with this writer covering the Connecticut licensing issue for AQUA Magazine in 2017, Rizzo explained, “Back when I built my first pool in 1955, there was no such thing as industry education, or certification or licensing, you just got into it and learned by trial and error,” he recalled. “Now with this builder’s license, we’ve established a program based on education and experience where people building swimming pools can enjoy the same level of credibility as plumbers or electricians and other licensed trades. That’s why I believe it’s a big step toward building consumer confidence.”    Rizzo was also highly active in local business organizations outside of the pool and spa industry, serving as a member of UNICO-Hartford Chapter for over 55 years and on the Board of Directors of the Better Business Bureau, as well as the Franklin Avenue Merchants Association in Hartford. He was awarded “Businessman of the Year” in 2007. He was also a consultant for the State Consumer Protection Agency. Rizzo was well-known for his charismatic personality, direct manner and deep, booming voice. Fellow Connecticut pool builder and co-founder of Watershape University, Bill Drakeley, fondly recalled Rizzo’s frank and brash character. “He didn’t varnish what he had to say. You always knew where you stood with him and he wanted to understand your point of view,” Drakeley said. “He passionately supported industry education and at times saw value in disrupting the status quo, especially when it came to addressing the lack of education that plagued our industry back in the day.”    Speaking about his belief in the power of education, in a 2013 Pool & Spa News article titled, “The Great Educator,” Rizzo offered this bit of sage advice to young people coming into the industry, “Pay attention to detail! It’s a priority in life, too – that and a good education.” In the same article, he credited his father for instilling in him those guiding principles. “What he taught me, what’s important, is craftsmanship and doing the job right.”  “He was a builder of bridges at a time when the industry existed as a dozen competing islands,” said long-time friend, Jim McCloskey, founding publisher of WaterShapes. “He will be remembered for his vision of a better industry. And, of course, his resonate voice.” Rizzo is survived by his three children: daughter, Lisa Gagnon and her husband, Cary; daughter, Gina Galvin and her husband Jim; son, Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, III and his wife, Dr. Janiece Turnbull. He was predeceased by a son, Anthony J. Rizzo. He also leaves behind seven grandchildren – and a very grateful industry. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to be made to the Anthony Rizzo Training Grant program at NESPA. The purpose of this program is to enable individuals to take advantage of the education programs offered by NESPA's Professional Training Institute and to assist members in reaching a higher level of professional performance. Donations can be made online at www.nespapool.org.
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