“Hi Guy.” These simple words are the first that come to mind as industry leaders pay tribute to Earl Lewis Zarbock. The industry veteran, who passed away August 16 at age 79, is remembered as a master at creating great relationships in his business, personal connections and with his family.
These two words were Zarbock’s signature path to friendship. Once they were spoken, “he made you feel relaxed and important right away,” states Jerry Mesher, a lifelong industry and family friend.
Frank Finkel of Ferguson Enterprises-Northeast District shared a three-decades long friendship with Zarbock; one that also began when Zarbock turned to him and said “Hi Guy.” He states, “That was typical of Earl, he invited everyone into his life and brought laughter and joy to all.”
He adds “a very special relationship began [with those words], one that we shared with our families and other friends we met through American Supply Association (ASA). Wherever Earl is now, we can be sure that his hand is out, and he is saying ‘Hi Guy.’”
Nick Giuffre of Bradford White agrees, remembering how “Within the first minute of meeting Earl, you felt like you’d known each other for a lifetime. His warm smile and sparkling eyes instantly put you at ease. He always made you feel special every time he greeted you, and he always had a compliment about your family or company.”
Joe Maiale of InSinkErator states, “Earl was one of the great leaders in our industry and yet he possessed the common man touch with anyone he spoke with, at any level. I will miss him and that sincere smile of his.”
His zeal for life and his caring nature enabled Zarbock, as CEO, to engage employees in building Plumbers Supply Company into one of the largest plumbing and waterworks distribution companies in the country.
A testament to the 1989’s ASA president’s generous and caring spirit can be found in a story shared by Mesher. When the two were in Cabo together, Mesher recalls a young girl selling trinkets for $1 apiece. “Earl purchased all 10 pieces and gave her $100 bill. She returned with her mother, who was in tears as she thanked him,” he says.
The graduate of Olympus High School and proud alumnus of the University of Utah, with a degree in business and marketing, shared a true passion for his wife, Carol, whom he affectionately called “Blondie.” The high school sweethearts married Sept. 4, 1958, at Salt Lake Temple.
Zarbock is remembered as a true family man, but his interest in family extended beyond his own to that of others as well. “Earl was a friend and customer of mine for over 30 years,” Maiale recalls. “He was always genuinely interested in how you and your family were doing. I’m not sure how he remembered my wife and children’s names, but he did.”
Though friendly and compassionate, Zarbock is also remembered as a tough, but fair, negotiator. “No matter what product line I sold him over the years, I happened to be 5 percent too high. We used to have a good laugh about that whenever we met after he had retired,” Maiale recalls.
Giuffre’s memories of business dealings with Zarbock are similar, but he adds, “We always shook hands at the end of the deal and he always believed in a win-win compromise.”
Zarbock had many accomplishments in his career, but some remember him best for his focus on building industry knowledge. “He always maintained his interest in promoting the industry. During my time as an Education Foundation Trustee, Earl always wanted to hear what was being done to enhance our educational offerings,” noted Kendrick Reaves, industry and family friend.
The industry also remembers Zarbock as an avid sports fan, who enjoyed skiing, tennis, mountaineering, boating and golf. He is said to have rarely missed a sporting event or other event of his children or grandchildren. He also brought his love of sports to his industry connections. Though Mesher and Zarbock were partners in many golf tournaments over the years, what Mesher recalls most fondly is their annual bet on the Utah vs. Washington football game. “He finally won the bet this past year,” he says. “Washington and Utah play this weekend. I will miss our annual bet. I will miss Earl.”
Zarbock was born March 13, 1939, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Earl Ferdinand Zarbock and Leona Lewis. He is survived by his wife, five children, 25 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. Zarbock was laid to rest on August 21, 2018.
Ronnie Wendt is a freelance writer based in Waukesha, Wis.