For more than 50 years, pioneering industry chemist, Robert W. Lowry, worked to raise the pool-service industry’s knowledge of water chemistry maintenance, becoming of the best-known educators in the history of the industry. A long-time friend and colleague, Eric Herman, pays tribute to Lowry and remembers the first time they met.
By Eric Herman
On November 17th, 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, long-time 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 the dignity, of the pool-service profession by way of 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 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.
We finally met six months later at the Western Pool & Spa Show in Pasadena, where I attended his class for the second time. Afterward, I introduced myself, he politely said he knew who I was back in San Jose, because, Bob just always knew what was going on around him.
That’s just one small slice of his vast career and contributions within the pool and spa industry, where his impact and legacy cannot be overstated. His professional history is well-known, starting when he created a clarifier for aquariums, founding two chemical companies where he formulated over 90 products, and essentially defined the applied science of pool and spa chemistry.
In 1991, he parted ways with Service Industry News and found a home for his writing with Pool & Spa News, where I was assigned to work as his personal editor. That began a long working relationship that would last until his death.
On Oct. 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 is personal background and his career. I had known him for 32 years, 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 my days. Every time I write something about water treatment, I’ll remember Bob Lowry. My heart goes out to his lovely wife, Silvia.