In Memoriam — Robert Lowry
By David Dickman
Robert Lowry’s life ended on a high note — probably the exact way he would have planned it.
He had just finished receiving Pool Nation’s first Lifetime Achievement Award and had addressed the audience in Dallas, Texas, from his home in Lima, Peru. He was at the top of his game, widely recognized throughout the pool and spa industry as the go-to expert on all things chemical.
Shortly after his teleconferenced address, his wife, Silvia, notified organizers that he had died. He was 75.
I’m in a rather unique position to write about Bob. We were, after all, business partners for five years and collaborated on tens of thousands of words dealing with virtually every aspect of swimming pool and spa care. The products of our collaboration are still out there, guiding industry professionals on the proper way to do their jobs.
I met Bob in 1985. We were in Palm Springs, Calif., at a social get-together sponsored by the Southern California chapter of what was then the National Spa and Pool Institute — the forerunner of today’s Pool and Hot Tub Alliance— our industry’s largest trade association.
We were sitting around the swimming pool at the resort that played host to the event, and we were randomly paired in a game of Trivial Pursuit. It turned out that between the two of us, we possessed a broad-enough knowledge of all things trivial that we dominated the game. It was the birth of a friendship that ultimately led to a partnership, which in turn led to a pair of lengthy and successful careers.
At the time, I was the editor of Pool & Spa News, and Bob was still counting the money he had received from the sale of Leisure Time Chemical — in which he was a minority owner — to a multinational corporation called Laporte. He was continuing to work as a consultant for Leisure Time, but he was looking around for another project.
Bob started in the spa industry in 1973, just a couple of years after graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in inorganic chemistry. He teamed up with his first partner and college roommate, Joe Arbaczawski, to form a Georgia company they called Robarb (the “Rob” for Robert and the “arb” for Joe). They had developed a polymer-based clarifier for aquariums, and someone asked if their chemical might work to clarify spa water. The spa industry was in its infancy, and there were few products available to treat hot water with all of its inherent challenges.
After four years with Robarb, Bob was lured away from the company by a businessman named Stan Freeman, who wanted to start making spa chemicals in California and had visions of producing a whole line of water-treatment products. Leisure Time Chemical, as it was called, presented a far more ambitious business plan than Bob and Joe had pursued, and Bob signed on as the company’s chief chemist and a minority owner. It was shortly after the sale of the 8-year-old company that we met.
Part of Bob’s job at Leisure Time was to conduct a series of water chemistry lectures throughout the country. Along with many companies in the pool and spa industry, Leisure Time had the philosophy that education helps sell product. Bob used his skills as a public speaker and his knowledge of water chemistry to teach service professionals how to better serve their customers.
But Bob was a visionary who wanted to share his knowledge with a much broader audience than could be served by a series of lectures. He believed that only by publishing his work could he achieve that goal. And that was where I fit into the picture.
Some months after we met, Bob and I were sitting in the spa at his home, and together we came up with the idea of launching a publication aimed exclusively at pool and spa service. He had knowledge that he wanted to disseminate, and I had the editorial and publishing skills to make it happen. Thus was born the idea for Service Industry News.
After a year of planning, we launched our trade newspaper in January 1987, using the then-revolutionary technique known as desktop publishing. We were competing with no fewer than four other publications in the pool and spa industry, and we knew that if we were to succeed, we would have to keep our costs down — which we could do by producing our paper on a personal computer. We also had to keep our content narrowly focused on a single audience — the professional pool and spa service technician.
And, as it turns out, we had found a good formula for success. But after five years, Bob’s ambition reached beyond what we could accomplish together. So we parted ways. I continued to run the publication, and Bob used his skills as a practicing chemist to help develop products for a variety of companies. In all, he said that he had helped develop 111 chemical products for the pool and spa industry.
After a brief stint as a technology officer for Del Ozone, he became the technical director for Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies. Over five years, he helped reformulate or develop new chemical products, aided the company with their safety program and EPA registrations, and helped to train employees in water chemistry.
Following his time at Leslie’s, Bob founded the Lowry Consulting Group in Jasper, Ga., where he became a CPO instructor and continued to work as a consulting chemist, developing products for Leslie’s, Natural Chemistry, and other chemical companies.
In 2006, Bob published a Basic Training Manual for the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association, the first of four technical publications he prepared for that organization. He is also the author of “Pool Chemistry for Service Pros,” “Pool Chemistry for Residential Pools,” and “Pool Chlorination Facts.” Over his career, he wrote more than 20 books on water chemistry and published more than 175 technical articles.
In 2018, he joined with Greg Garrett of the National Plasterers’ Council to form the Pool Chemistry Training Institute, which has provided water chemistry certification to hundreds of pool professionals in both in-person and online training sessions. Following Garrett’s death in 2019, Terry Arko of Hasa Inc. joined his team of instructors. It has been announced that Hasa will continue to operate the institute.
It was Arko who presented Bob with the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pool Nation Podcast, a new podcast aimed at training pool and spa professionals for which Bob was a major contributor. Arko has announced that henceforth, the award would be named the Robert Lowry Lifetime Achievement Award in his honor.