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Industry Salute: Tom Lockett Leaves a Unique Legacy
Industry Salute - Tom Lockett: Industry says goodbye to a beloved pallet machinery salesman. Known for his humor and friendly sales style, Tom Locket recently passed away.
By Dr. Ed Brindley, Publisher
Date Posted: 12/1/2007
This first “Industry Salute” in a long time comes with a sad note. I am writing about my good friend Tom Lockett, a long time salesman of pallet machinery who passed away on Monday, October 22.
Where do I begin to frame a picture of a person like Tom Lockett? I have spoken with his wife Donna and many of his friends to solicit their comments so you can get a flavor of what Tom meant to so many in our industry.
In preparation for his life’s work, Tom attended Penn State University and transferred to Clarion University where he graduated in English. Soon after marrying Donna in 1962, the couple traveled to Tacoma, Wash. where Tom began working for Weyerhaeuser. Immediately after graduating from Clarion, he attended the Hardwood Grading School in Memphis and was hired by Weyerhaeuser for their six month sales training program. From Tacoma, he moved back across the country to Miami and from there to Orlando and Atlanta.
After that time he and Donna stayed in the South where he moved to the plywood industry, serving as the sales manager for South-Ply in Louisiana, Great Northern Nekoosa in Georgia, and Boise Southern in Louisiana. Tom then worked in the treated wood industry for Southeast Wood Treating Company in Alabama and Great Southern Treating in Alabama.
Tom went to work for Viking Engineering in the pallet industry and continued living in Alabama. Donna said, “Tom loved working in the pallet industry and the people in it. He was dedicated to his work, his employer and especially to his customers.
“Being married to Tom for 45 years was a constant adventure. He truly found his passion for life in his work, his family and his golf. Tom never seemed to meet a stranger. He loved people and loved to tell stories. He kept me laughing for 45 years. His love for people and his keen wit will be missed by all who knew him and especially by his family who dearly loved him. He was a great gift to us and a blessing to all who knew him.”
Tom often talked about his wife Donna, who became an ordained Episcopal priest just a few years ago. Her comments above are a tribute to a man who touched those around him.
Tom’s professional dedication is exhibited by the variety of leadership positions he gladly served. Some of his industry affiliations include: three American Wood Preservers’ Association committees, marketing committee of the American Plywood Association, executive steering committee of the American Wood Council, forest products advisory committee of the Chicago Board of Trade, board of directors of the Building Material Merchants of Alabama and Georgia, several committees of the Florida Lumber and Building Materials Dealers Association, and the standards committee of the NWPCA.
When my phone rang fairly early on October 22; a long time friend Jay Brickell, a well known and respected salesman for Viking Engineering, informed me that Tom was very ill. Jay was concerned that he might not be with us much longer. Tom had brain swelling following serious surgery. Jay put his friend in perspective, “What a dear friend and wonderful coworker! Everywhere I turn, people ask about Tom. Tom was very smart and could fit into any situation because of his vast knowledge and desire to share what he knew with interested people.” This puts a perspective on what I repeatedly heard any time I talked to another one of Tom’s friends.
The next morning I had no more than arrived at the office that I received a call from David Johnson, a long time friend and former VP of sales for Viking Engineering. Tom had passed away the night before.
The Six Million Dollar Man
David wrote the following tribute. “I had the honor of working with Tom Lockett for over 10 years. Although Tom reported to me, it should have been the other way around. I learned more from Tom about sales, sales management, and machinery than from anyone I have ever been associated with in my career. Tom did not sell machinery; he brought solutions to the customer.
“Tom was an expert in hardwood lumber, sawing, plant layout, and of course nailing machines. He was also the most organized, professional and persistent person I have ever met. When Viking bought laptops for all of its salesmen, Tom said he didn’t need one because he had everything about every customer in his black books by state. It turned out he was right. Whenever we needed to get information, we didn’t go to Viking’s database, but rather to Tom’s black books. There was every prospective customer, what type of machines they owned, their employees’ names, their wives’ and kids’ names, what kind of car they drove. You name it, Tom knew it. I remember that whenever Tom was trying to close a sale he used to get so frustrated and would say, “I can’t understand why this company wants to wait to start saving money.”
“Tom had the distinction of selling and delivering over six million dollars in Viking machines in 1998, a record I’m sure will not be surpassed. From that day forward, Tom was our six million dollar man.”
David closed, “Tom was professional, persistent, and sincere. Most of all, Tom was my friend and I will miss him.”
Salute from Brent Orr
It is fantastic for your colleagues to think a great deal of you, but it is even better when customers feel that way. Brent Orr of W.N.C. Pallet Co. wrote, “Yesterday I received a call from Jim Reynolds (G Wine Sales) who had worked with Tom Lockett for years. Jim described Tom as being like a brother to him since they were so close.
“In my opinion, Tom was one of the most respected sales people in the whole pallet industry. He was a walking book of knowledge. Tom knew everything about just about everyone in the industry — what they were doing and what machines they were running. He really worked at knowing everything about Viking machines. He knew who had what, the dates they were installed, how they were maintained, who had bought used machines and their histories. He was one of, if not “the top salesman” for Viking.
“Tom was more than just a machine salesman; he was a friend. You could always count on Tom for a laugh or a joke. Tom will be missed by the industry as his presence has already been missed since leaving Viking.”
It seems like everybody with whom I spoke used a similar description for Tom. He was a friend, and he always had a funny story or joke to share.
Brent shared one of his stories. “Tom sold a machine in southern Alabama. The owner had employee troubles and was also trying to figure out this new machine with new operators. The owner, knowing he was getting farther behind with orders piling up, called Tom to see if he would come down and work with the operator to get the new machine more productive. When Tom arrived, he could tell he had his work cut out for him. There was a pile of past due orders and another pile of poorly made pallets on the floor. Tom started working with the new operator, but it wasn’t long before the operator told Tom that he was going to have to leave. Tom asked what was the problem. The operator, feeling a little overwhelmed with all the instruction and backlog of needed pallets, explained that he was coming down with “optical-rectitus.” Having never heard of this condition or its seriousness, he asked the operator about it. The operator explained that he could not “see his ass operating this machine any longer, especially Saturdays and Sundays to get caught up.”
Smarter Than He Looked
In his down home style, Jim Reynolds called Tom “one of a kind, a very close friend, a person with that unique sly grin. He never met a person he didn’t like. He had an amazing memory. He knew every family and all their names. He joked all the time, was always in a good mood. Every customer loved him.”
Tom always impressed me as a smart man. Jim reinforced my belief when he said, “Tom could talk to anybody about just about anything. He was always reading. He read instead of listening to radio and TV. He read at least three newspapers every day. Many people may not know that he had a college degree. Tom would share his knowledge about anything if a person just expressed an interest.”
Tom’s salesmanship is legendary in our industry. He sold service; he was head and shoulders about personal service after the sale. Jim Wilson of Bay Wood Products, part of the WNC Group, said, “Everybody in the WNC group has agreed that Tom was the best sales person we have ever run into.”
Jim said, “Tom would often just show up at a factory unannounced. Once, Jim Taylor of Pensacola Skid had been running his Champion for about a year. There was a problem in the assembly department, so Jim went out to help diagnose the problem and get out the order. He felt somebody’s presence behind him and then heard Tom say, “Didn’t I tell you that when you had a problem, Viking would be there for you?”
Randy Keko remembers fondlywhen he hired Tom at Viking, “It was the best decision I ever made.”
Monte Reeves of A-1 Pallet Co. in Jackson, Miss, added a different perspective on Tom, “I saw him gradually become a strong man of faith.”
Greg Wine remembers Tom fondly. Greg said, “He was a super guy, just a wonderful friend. He always had a joke. The last time the Redskins were in the Superbowl, Viking was having a sales meeting in Minneapolis. Tom and I were rooming together and I needed a shirt. So, I wore one of Tom’s. Tom teased me that I was the second best dressed man there.”
Everybody knows how much he loved to play golf. Tom worked hard and worked smart. Greg Wine recalled his trip reports. “You could count on Tom having his trip report on the Viking fax every Monday morning by 8:30 a.m.”
M.L. Self of Bronco Pallet Systems said, “Tom worked with us for about a year after retiring from Viking. I enjoyed working with him even when he was a competitor. He was just a pleasant guy to be around. I recall the time he was in Bay City, Texas with us and he kept making wrong turns trying to get back to the motel. The next day he said he did not know that we had three What-A-Burgers in Bay City. We didn’t. He must have gone by that same What-A-Burger three times before getting back to the motel.”
Clarence Leising, another one of Tom’s friends, said, “Tom was one heck of a guy. He was the hardest working salesman serving our industry. He always had a funny story and a joke. He used to say that whenever you found four Baptists together there would be a fifth.”
Randy Panko of Wood-Mizer said, “Tom worked for us for about a year after he left Viking. He had so many friends in the industry, both customers and fellow suppliers. He was the kind of guy who went out to the plant first to take care of business and stopped in the shop to say hello and finish his business before leaving. He was so well organized. He lived to serve his customers. His black book of information was famous. He documented everything. At the end of the day when work was done, he was always ready to go out and spend time to get to know you better. He wanted his friends to be successful.”
I believe that this sampling of comments from just a few of Tom’s endless list of friends puts a perspective on how much he meant to so many people. All of Tom’s friends have had our lives enriched by knowing him. We can look back at his almost mischievous smile with fond memories. Thank you Tom for being yourself and enriching our lives.
Tom and Donna lived in Troy, Alabama, but he was buried in Pennsylvania along side of other family members. He is survived by his wife Donna, daughter, Tina Lockett of Pittsburgh, son and daughter-in-law, Thomas W. and Christi Lockett of Houston, Texas, and two grandchildren, William and Allison.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 401 West College Street, Troy, Alabama 36081.