He was simply called “The Senator”. And looking back, I suppose that no other nickname would’ve done the man justice.
On December 29, association icon and man who championed the cause of all institutional locksmiths, Robert C. Gress. Sr., passed away.
Naturally, no one called him Robert. He was plainly “Bob”. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Now, I can only guess as to how many hours Bob spent attending association board meetings, general membership meetings, conferences, trade shows, conventions, classes, banquets, barbeques, committee meetings, etc, all over the country in the name of in-house locksmiths. It was easily thousands of hours of his personal time, to be sure, as he was intensely activate in both local and national locksmith association affairs for the better part of three decades.
Bob started as an institutional locksmith in the early 80’s when he started working a Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. In the early 90’s, he founded the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Institutional Locksmiths’ Association.
That chapter would survive - and thrive - for over 20 years. In fact, the annual award conveyed by the chapter president would eventually bear his name.
I can tell you that he both hated and loved that honor at the same time. He hated it because he was NOT a man that sought recognition for himself. He just wasn’t that type of person. But he loved it because he got to see a member (or a dear friend) of the chapter receive the recognition that THEY so rightly deserved. He would sit there like a proud Papa when the award recipient was announced each year smiling from ear-to-ear. And he was never more so proud as the night that his delightful wife, Mary, received the award that bears his name.
He had every right to be proud.
Bob was often the epitome of a walking contradiction, but not in the two-faced, back-stabbing why that some people interpret the ancient saying. He would often say that he that he wasn’t a good public speaker, but when he spoke he commanded the room. He would say that he wasn’t the smartest man in the room, but people from all segments of the locksmith industry sought his counsel. He would get into an argument with you, only to realize that you were both on the same side of the argument.
It was called a “Bob Gress argument”, and I’m certain he did that just to see if he could get your goat. Most people didn’t even realize that they were in an engagement with Bob like that until someone explained to them that they were, in fact, just a part of a Bob Gress argument. It was a badge of honor. You when in the “club”. His club. And you knew it by the mile-wide grin that he’d give you afterwards.
I may have meet Bob a little too late in life to call him a mentor. But I will say this of my friend: I came to greatly admire his tenacity, his work ethic and his self-sacrifice in his personal mission to promote institutional locksmithing, all the while accomplishing his quest with class, dignity and that irresistible, booming laugh of his.
And that mile-wide grin, naturally.
So, the next time you're enjoying a glass of red wine, take a moment and think of Bob. He would’ve loved to hoist a glass with you and talk about the industry; about family; about life; really about anything just to have the chance to enjoy your company.
So, here’s to you, Bob. You are - and will be - dearly missed.
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