In Memoriam: HomeWorld Remembers Housewares Industry Leaders

The housewares world mourned the loss of several industry leaders during 2015. Here’s a look at some of those whose passing was reported by HOMEWORLD BUSINESS®.

Carl Bicking, 94, former evp/sales for Ace Hardware Corp., passed on May 12.

Bruce Dayton, 97, part of the founding family of what is now Target Corp., passed on November 13. For a period in the 1960s and 1970s, Dayton served as president of what was then Dayton Co. The company helped establish the modern discount store sector when, in 1962, it opened the first Target store in Roseville, MN.

Target’s CEO Brian Cornell stated, “When I joined this company, many people offered ideas and advice, but at 96 years young, Bruce Dayton’s words were perhaps the most profound. He truly wanted me to succeed— he wanted Target to succeed— but not for the reasons you might think. His focus wasn’t on protecting his legacy, but rather, about furthering the commitment to community he began so many years ago. That notion is one of the Dayton family’s core philosophies: Companies’ fortunes are intrinsically linked to the health and vitality of the communities in which they operate. And Bruce understood this long before almost anyone else.”

Vic Firth, 85, a noted musician and drumstick manufacturer whose company later crafted kitchenware such as pepper mills and salt shakers, passed on July 26.

Jack Futterman, 82, former chairman and CEO of Pathmark, passed on July 13. He joined the grocer in 1973 and became CEO until 1996. Futterman was also former chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

Michael Graves, 80, passed on March 12. A postmodern architect and designer of whimsical home goods, Graves became best known to mass consumers through his celebrated lines of commissioned home goods for Target and J.C. Penney and various manufacturers such as Alessi, Dansk, Black & Decker and Duravit.

Graves designed the iconic whistling bird tea kettle for Alessi. Alberto Alessi, president of Alessi, said, “I was saddened to hear the bad news. The last time we met in Philadelphia, even in a wheel chair, Michael was so energetic. We were thinking to organize something special for the events we are preparing around Michael-Alessi collaboration for 2015… and the new project with Michael that we will unveil shortly: the ‘Tea Rex Kettle’! Michael, as you well know, has been for Alessi one of the leading authors and design heroes, and for me, personally, one of my most important maestros. I’ll never forget his contribution to our history.”

Lars Hybel, 51, passed on September 27. Hybel was True Value’s vp/international.

Jacob Jensen, 89, a designer of electronics, housewares and small electrics known for his Danish modern style, passed on May 15.

Jason Ledbetter, 48, director of sales for Clipper Corporation’s licensed Viking Culinary brand, passed on July 12. Ledbetter, a 12-year housewares industry veteran, specialized in representing quality brands to the gourmet housewares industry. He began his housewares career in 2003 as a divisional sales manager for Lodge Manufacturing. Previous brands he worked with include Epicurean, Shun and Swiss Diamond.

“Jason really believed in the products he was involved with. His passion for the brands he was selling showed through,” said Jeff Malkasian, evp/Clipper Corp. “Jason was one of the most genuine people I have met. He was always looking out for those around him.”

Leonard Lieberman, 85, former chairman and CEO of Supermarkets General, which owned Pathmark, passed on January 2. Lieberman became president of Supermarkets General in the early 1980s and assumed the role of chairman and CEO in 1983.

Vincent Marotta Sr., 91, a driving force behind the introduction and rise of the Mr. Coffee automatic drip coffeemaker, passed on August 1. Marotta and business partner Sam Glazer introduced Mr. Coffee in 1972 as one of the first home automatic drip coffeemakers. Marotta stoked Mr. Coffee’s rapid growth in the 1970s by recruiting Hall of Fame baseball player Joe DiMaggio as the brand’s spokesman and star of a decade-long TV advertising campaign. Marotta remained chairman and CEO of Mr. Coffee parent North America Systems until 1987, when it was sold to a securities firm in a leveraged buyout. Mr. Coffee is now owned by Jarden.

Iggy Nowak, 78, a longtime Polish glassware and tableware sales representative, passed away August 29. Nowak’s company, Glassware Consultants, had a showroom at Forty One Madison.

Andrew Patton, 49, AmericasMart’s vp/leasing for holiday, floral and home décor, passed on August 4. He was with AmericasMart for 17 years and had built long-lasting relationships with its exhibitors, and championed its growth unfailingly, AmericasMart officials said.

Jeffrey Portman, Sr., AmericasMart vice chairman, president and chief operating officer, said, “We must remember Andrew’s vibrant life. Each of us is better for having known this incredibly kind and talented man, whom we are privileged to call friend.”

Christina Inmon Pearson, 44, owner of the Atlanta-based A La Carte tabletop, gift and gourmet housewares showroom, passed on July 16.

Robert Piccinini, 73, longtime chairman of California-based Save Mart Supermarkets, passed on March 24.

Paul Prudhomme, 75, passed on October 8. A celebrity chef, Prudhomme was a New Orleans native whose specialties were Creole and Cajun cuisines, and he was credited with popularizing the cuisine in America.

Anna Pump, 81, passed on October 6. Pump was a cookbook author and partner in the Bridgehampton, NY-based Loaves & Fishes Cookshop.

Thomas Stemberg, 66, a former grocery executive who founded Staples, passed on October 23. Stemberg was working on a business proposal over the Fourth of July weekend when his typewriter ribbon broke. Because of the holiday, local suppliers and stationery stores were closed. After driving from store to store and never finding the correct ribbon, he came to the conclusion the world needed a supermarket for office products. After serving as Staples CEO through 2002 and chairman until 2005, Stemberg left the company and joined the venture capital firm of Highland Capital Partners in 2005 as a general partner. 

A. Alfred Taubman, 91, passed on April 17. Taubman, a real estate developer, founded his company in 1950 and eventually became a billionaire by building shopping mall developer Taubman Centers into a retailing giant, with a portfolio including the Mall at Short Hills in NJ, and the Beverly Center in Los Angeles.

Marcel Trepanier, 68, founder and former president of Luigi Bormioli’s U.S. subsidiary, passed on September 6. He worked for different glassware companies early in his career before being hired by Luigi Bormioli Corp., serving as president of the Italian glassware company’s U.S. operation for 29 years.

“Marcel was a great leader and an inspirational teacher. He guided the company with a unique blend of charisma and energy that allowed his passion to flow through all aspects of the business,” said Michael Duncan, president, Luigi Bormioli. “He created and nurtured a culture in Luigi Bormioli built for success on a foundation of hard work, honesty and integrity. To all who worked under his leadership, he was more than a co-worker and a friend, he was the head of our LBC family.”

Lillian Vernon, 88, passed on December 14. Vernon founded her namesake company in 1951, building it into a multi-million catalog business that specialized in household products, gifts and gadgets. She served as its chairwoman and CEO until 1989, and continued to serve as executive chairwoman until 2003.

Robert Weis, 96, former chairman of Weis Markets, passed on October 19. Early in his life, Weis worked in his family’s stores, operating the cash register. In the subsequent decades, Weis helped oversee Weis Markets’ growth and expansion into six states. In 1995, he became chairman of Weis Markets, and in 2001 became the company’s largest shareholder.

Chuck Williams, 100, founder of Williams-Sonoma, and a retail and culinary icon who ignited America’s passion for cooking and desire for high quality cookware, passed on December 5. Williams opened the first Williams-Sonoma store in Northern California in the 1950s. He never retired from the company he founded, continuing to edit cookbooks, provide input on merchandise strategies, and make public appearances well into his nineties.

Williams-Sonoma recently celebrated Williams’ 100th birthday, with the unveiling of a limited edition Chuck Williams “Signature Collection” of his favorite products along with a new cookbook, “Cooking at Home,” that celebrates his legacy with more than 1,000 recipes from its award-winning cookbook library.

“Chuck taught us that when we open our doors to a customer, we welcome a friend into our home,” said Laura Alber, president and CEO of Williams-Sonoma. “He had impeccable taste, unique insight for selecting the right products at the right time, and the highest standard of customer service. Most of all, Chuck was our mentor and our friend. We will miss him dearly.”

Michelle Zazzini, 49, svp/product development for fine tabletop brands at Lifetime Brands, passed on January 26. Zazzini had been formerly brand director for Mikasa at Lifetime. Prior to Lifetime, she was a buyer at and Wedding Linda Levine, svp/sales, Lifetime Brands, remembered: “I had the pleasure to work with Michelle for many years. She was the consummate professional who loved being a part of this industry. Michelle had great insight into what both the retailer and the consumer needed and wanted. She was a significant part in creating great patterns. Michelle’s personality, laugh and smile touched many both through work and friendship.”

Glen Baskin, vp/chief marketing officer, Lifetime Brands, added: “Michelle was a creative, hard working, loyal, smart coworker and an even better friend. Everyone’s life she touched was better because she was in it. She was a kind hearted, giving person who always put others before herself.”