For more than a decade, Gary Distelhorst (pictured on the right with Stone WorldPublisher Alex Bachrach), worked tirelessly to better the stone industry on an international level.
To summarize what Gary and the MIA have done over the past 11+ years would take up much more space than I have in this column, but in my opinion, every single company in our industry has benefitted from his contributions. This was never more true than when we were faced with the “Great Radon Scare of 2008.” People may sort of chuckle when the radon scare is brought up now, four and a half years later. But I can tell you this, it was no joking matter when the New York Times and just about every major television network in this country were reporting the same mantra: “Are granite countertops killing you and your family? Tune in to find out.”
The economy was just starting to falter at this time, and in my estimation, the radon scare could have been crippling to our industry. When it first hit the mainstream media, consumers started ripping out their countertops, fleeing their homes and staying in hotels. Seriously, all of this really happened, and it took a swift and decisive effort to defend our industry against these scare tactics.
In the face of this negative national media coverage, Gary led a massive effort funded by MIA members that used scientific evidence to refute the baseless speculation on the subject. Ultimately, the entire episode turned into a consumer education opportunity — with millions of hits to the MIA’s Web site and thousands of views of the MIA’s “Truth About Granite” Web video. (While there are many to thank for protecting our industry from the radon scare, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the efforts of then-MIA President Jim Hogan, as he traveled the globe to help promote the MIA’s efforts in the matter.)
Gary has also been instrumental in several initiatives that will benefit our industry for decades to come.
• Helping guide the transition of StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas into one of the largest stone shows in the U.S. and one of the most prestigious stone trade shows in the world, with a wide array of education programs;
• Establishing the first professional accreditation for stone fabricators and installers, a long-sought industry goal;
• Overseeing development of groundbreaking safety training programs;
• Creating awards programs to recognize stone excellence and craftsmanship;
• Dramatically expanding MIA’s library of technical publications, videos and Web information resources for stone professionals and specifiers;
• Developing a regional education program plus stone education at Coverings, KBIS, AIA and other shows;
• Creating stone promotion campaigns and an array of consumer education materials;
• Helping to organize the Natural Stone Council, a federation of stone industry associations that work on common industry issues like sustainability.
As I said, I could literally fill an entire issue by detailing what Gary has done for our industry. Ours is a passionate industry, and at a time when a down economy and hard times might dull some of that excitement, Gary’s passion has never wavered.
Let me also say that as editor of our industry’s publication, I have worked side by side with Gary many times. We have sat on StonExpo’s Education Committee, we have worked on seminars together, and we have encountered each other in literally all corners of the earth — each of us sharing the goal of advancing our industry as a whole. I should also note that Gary never hesitated to tell me when he felt that Stone World was doing something out of line, and while I didn’t always agree, I certainly respected where he was coming from. On a personal level, I will truly miss seeing him at these events around the world.
Having said all of this, I should add that the MIA could not have picked a greater successor than Jim Hieb, who has worked alongside Gary throughout his tenure in our industry. Jim is dedicated and passionate about our industry, and he works tirelessly to help it succeed. Last year, he was honored for his work by the Association Society of Association Executives, and we are lucky to have him.
I have also worked side by side with Jim for more than a decade, and over the past few years, Stone World has been working with him and his team on our Stone Industry Education Series. He is keenly aware of all of the challenges that our industry is facing — and will face in the future — and we at Stone World are looking forward to helping along the way.