by Matthew Spieler
For the last 17 years I had the privilege and honor to work hand-in-hand with Al. Yes, we argued, fought and called each other every name imaginable, but that was an integral fabric of our relationship. Not many bosses would tolerate, even allow, an employee to say the things I did in the heat of battle, but that is what made Al the unique person he was.
If you firmly believed in something, Al wanted you to stand up for yourself, just like he did. With him, it was a matter of respect.
The funny thing is even during our screaming matches, I would learn something important from Al, for he was always teaching. I owe my knowledge of the industry to him, not to mention a whole lot more.
As much as it prevented me from doing my work, one of the things I loved was sitting in Al’s office, smoking a cigar and just chatting. Aside from my grandfather, who formed an immediate bond with him—they actually fought in some of the same battles during WWII, both were seriously wounded but didn’t let it rule their lives, both were decorated heroes—Al was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. So when he started talking about life, the war, the industry, sports, whatever, I always ate it up—especially when he focused on things of a historical nature, such as the industry or WWII. No one knew more than he and if you took the time to listen, the information he gave was gold.
Think about it—Al wrote approximately 1,800 editorials pertaining to the industry and countless more news stories, interviews and reports during his 56 years at the helm of a flooring trade paper. They say all records are made to be broken, but in Al’s case I don’t think anyone will ever be able to equal his feats.
I never met Gene Barwick, wasn’t around when tufting and nylon came on the scene, never got to witness all those great innovations and products by the industry’s pioneers, but thanks to Al, I not only know all about them, I feel like I was actually there. His way with words, both written and spoken, were truly a treasure. The way and rate in which Al strung words and phrases together could easily bring you to tears—of either sadness or laughter depending on how sensitive you are.
Space does not really allow me to convey all the thoughts and emotions running through me at this time when it comes to discussing Al and his impact—on me or the industry.
Needless to say, I considered him more than a friend and certainly more than a boss. He was my mentor, my helper and, most of all, someone with whom I held the utmost respect and admiration.
He taught me more than he ever knew or would take credit—about journalism, the industry, myself and life—and for that I will be eternally grateful.
Rest easy, my friend, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.