Bob Carey in retrospect

12/02/2013 11:15:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstI had the chance to visit with Bob Carey at length  only once, and that time in late 2007 was well after his retirement from PMA in 1996. 

When people favorably describe a person, they sometimes say, "He was a prince of a man."  

That's the feeling I had about Bob Carey. He had a light, easy-going manner and didn't take himself too seriously. His reflections about the early days of PMA directed much credit to the group's strong volunteer leaders.

The Packer's coverage of Bob Carey's passing is found here 

The PMA and Bryan Silbermann have constructed a "tribute" page to Bob Carey and that link is in our coverage.

Also, check out this article in The Cape Gazette about Bob's passing.

One former editor of The Packer was much more familiar with the work of Bob Carey. Paul Campbell wrote the following piece after the retirement of The Packer's Bill Coon and PMA's Bob Carey. It was published on June 24, 1996:


Bob Carey's retirement signals end of an era

Two months ago, Bill Coon retired from THE PACKER, and on July 1, Bob Carey will retire from the Produce Marketing Association. Thus, an era has ended.

It's out with the old, and in with the new, a natural occurrence. But don't forget the contributions these two men made to the produce industry. And don't forget the unique relationship that has existed between PMA and THE PACKER over the years.

PMA and THE PACKER grew up together -- the parallels in their progress and growth are remarkable. I joined THE PACKER in September 1966 and planned to work there a couple of years to ``get some journalistic experience.'' I stayed 18 years. I had worked only a month before attending my first convention -- the Produce Packaging Association meeting at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago. Knowing nothing about the produce industry, conventions, airplanes or Chicago, it was quite a learning experience for me. I remember the exhibit hall was very small, and one could walk through the exhibits in a couple of minutes. At this time, both PMA and THE PACKER were searching for the keys to their future. Both knew they needed to change their approach, and they knew it had to do with retailing and marketing, but they hadn't quite put it all together yet.

PMA changed its name three or four times to reflect the marketing changes. A turning point for PMA was 1969. The organization had begun making a strong effort to get more retailers to join, and Chan Copps was only the second retailer -- and the first since Mal Ellison in 1962 -- to be president. Starting in 1969, the president of PMA was a retailer at least every other year, sometimes two years in a row.

It was about this time, too, that we started our face-to-face interviews with the outgoing PMA president each year. My first one was with Bob Callendar in Buffalo in 1970. I think I interviewed every president from then on until 1984.

In 1971, the PMA convention returned to Chicago, and it was at this convention that I started attending PMA board meetings. The reason for attending the board meetings was to gain insight into the industry and get ideas for future stories. I began to realize then the tremendous respect Bob Carey and the PMA board had for THE PACKER's publisher and vice president Jim Connell and Coon, and vice versa.

Even then, PMA planned its convention sites a few years in advance, and Connell was pushing hard for the association to come to Kansas City in 1975.

A lot of resistance existed among board members, which was understandable because Kansas City didn't have the appeal of a San Francisco or a New Orleans. They were concerned that having the meeting in Kansas City would hurt attendance. At the same time, realizing how much Connell had helped publicize and promote PMA, they didn't want to offend him.

I overheard Ralph Pinkerton, then with the California Avocado Board, say to Carey, ``Why don't we give Connell an award?'' ``What for?'' Carey asked.

``I don't know, but it's a lot easier than going to Kansas City,'' he replied.

In any event, the board finally did decide to come to Kansas City in 1975.

The Kansas City convention was a success. It also was the first year of the floral seminar, so this added a new and exciting element to the PMA convention. By the mid-1970s, PMA had obviously found its niche, which was to get retailers to join and come to the convention.

The program was stacked with retail-oriented speeches and material, and retailers were beginning to flock to the convention. The floral seminar each year also gave retailers another reason to convince their bosses of the benefits of PMA.

The 1970s brought an explosion of new produce items from the United States and around the world. No longer was the produce director at the chain stores considered a stepchild. His department now was the most important in the store. Suddenly, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables was the thing to do. Consumers became more nutrition-minded as experts advised them produce was healthy.

Certainly, some luck was involved in the boom at PMA and THE PACKER during the 1970s and early 1980s. On the other hand, the two organizations were prepared to capitalize on the situation.

Foodservice became more important to both organizations beginning in the mid-1970s, and eventually THE PACKER gave Produce Man of the Year awards to foodservice gurus Joe Stubbs of Sunkist and Joe Brennan of Marriott Corp.

As usual, and most importantly, the No. 1 thing the produce industry has going for it is that it offers good, healthful products. You can't beat that for a public relations tool.



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