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Remembering Bob Mader, Gone Too Soon

Feb. 25, 2021
An industry institution, the longtime journalist and valued friend and colleague left us suddenly this week at the age of 65. Here, Service Roundtable's Matt Michel pays tribute.

by MATT MICHEL, Special to CONTRACTOR

This week, the plumbing industry lost a great one. Bob Mader ascended with the angels. Rest in peace, Bob.

Bob worked for multiple “books” in the plumbing industry, as insiders refer to the magazines. Always, he worked on the editorial side, writing and editing the writing of others. He approached the industry with seriousness and a dry sense of humor.

Once, when he attended a Service Roundtable event in Las Vegas, we held a party on the top of the Stratosphere. In response to a dare, I agreed to jump from the Stratosphere, 1200 feet up. It was perfectly safe, providing I could get my weight below 250. I worked hard for months to shrink my posterior down to the weight limit. When the night came, with a few hundred of my closest friends jeering me on, I looked at the sun setting before me, with the wind whipping around me, the valley floor far below me, gulped, and plunged from the narrow platform. I’ve always been somewhat of an idiot.

The next morning, I awoke to a headline on CONTRACTORs website that stated, “Service Roundtable CEO, Matt Michel Jumps Off Building.”

It was accompanied by the best video anyone took of the entire event. Bob took it. While the rest of us were celebrating afterwards, he returned to his room to blog about the events of the day. That was Bob. He was dedicated and profligate.

When I confronted him about the sensationalism of the headline, he laughed. He said, “I gotta do something to gets clicks.”

I often prodded Bob about his alma mater, Notre Dame. While he was low key about it, he was fiercely proud of the Irish and followed their fortunes on the gridiron with intensity. He took sarcastic joy when he learned that I had a niece who attended Notre Dame. While everyone knows about Notre Dame’s “Touchdown Jesus,” Bob made me aware of the “First-Down Moses” statue.

One year, Bob traveled with the Service Roundtable’s best practice group, the Service Nation Alliance to the ISH Show in Frankfurt, Germany. ISH is the largest plumbing, heating, and air conditioning trade show in the world, occupying around a dozen exhibition halls that are each, the size of the Javits Center in New York.

We had been to ISH before, but Bob taught us how to work the show for maximum effect. He knew the right words to utter at the majestic booths of the ISH exhibitors. With Bob at our side, we were the foreign celebrities we always aspired to become and were treated to personally guided tours covering the future of plumbing innovations. Seriously, with Bob as our guide, we learned what would be introduced into the United States years in advance. The exhibitors at ISH, in contrast to domestic shows, tended to let you see what they were planning.

In his role at CONTRACTOR, and other publications, Bob was incredibly influential, but it never went to his head. He was always humble, committed to his craft, excellent in his work, and forever maintaining a dry, sardonic sense of humor.

After Mike Weil, at Contracting Business named me to the short list of the most influential people in the history of the air conditioning industry, Bob named me to the even shorter list of the most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industry. Apparently, I’m the only one on both lists. And, while both honors are much appreciated, I cannot claim that either is really deserved.

It brings to mind a scene from the mini-series, “Band of Brothers.” One of the actual soldiers portrayed in the film was asked by a grandson if he was a hero in the war. He responded, “No, but I served with heroes.”

Do I deserve to be on these lists? No, but the guys who created them were certainly some of the most influential people in our craft.

Bob Mader was more than a stellar editor, he was a genuinely awesome person and devoted husband to his bride, Kevyn. He will be mourned and missed by many.

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A regular contributor to CONTRACTOR, the author is president of Service Nation, which operates the Service Roundtable (the world’s largest organization for service contractors) and the Service Nation Alliance. In 2014, Mader named Matt as one of the 18 Most Influential People in the Plumbing/Hydronics Industries.