One of the toughest things about growing old has been saying goodbye to what seems like a steady stream of old friends and acquaintances. With the world so connected I hear about them all, and in real time.
All this whining is my way of bidding farewell to a roofing contractor whom I had known all of my 40 years in the business. Joseph J. “Joe” Rutkoski was a commercial roofing contractor from Tampa, Fla., for many more years than the 40 I claim to have known him. I find it hard to imagine a world without Joe in it. His place in the trade was, in a word, special.
Joe was manager of the Tampa branch of Giffen Industries when I first met him. He was larger than life — not just in his physical stature, which was impressive. He was tall and broad. He had a booming voice, an infectious laugh and a smile that went on forever. To say Joe was likable would be an understatement of monumental proportions.
Giffen Industries, a powerhouse commercial roof-contracting firm operating out of numerous Florida locations from the 1950s to the 1980s, went away, but Joe stayed in the business.
Joe was everything and everywhere in the roofing trade in Florida. He played a leadership role in the state’s roofing association, FRSA, and was its president in 1982. But I am not attempting a eulogy here. I lack the information, the skills and the paper it would take to get it all down.
My message is simple. Joe was one of those people I would see from time to time — perhaps once or twice in a year or once in five years. He was always Joe and he always had good things to say to me. He was, from the very beginning of my career, one of the industry leaders that taught me about the business. No, he did not sit me down and lecture me or take me through a course in roofing 101. He taught me through a series of business meetings, transactions, conversations, and a few good social outings. And I was not the only one.
I will remember a number of things about Joe, but especially how hard he worked. He played pretty hard, too. But the thing I will remember about him the most was his smile. It is good to recall that he was one of the best roofing contractors I have ever known (must have been to have lasted as long as he did in this business). But I think it is even better to recall him as a genuinely likable guy for whom I had a lot of respect. There will never be another Joe Rutkoski.