Industry icon Joe Winters, chairman and CEO of Winters Bros. Waste Systems, passed away on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 following a brief battle with COVID-19.
The 54-year-old co-owner began working in the family business at a young age "cleaning trucks, painting containers and driving trucks." He acquired his first company at the age of 25. Under his leadership, Winters Bros. eventually became one of the largest recycling and solid waste companies in the region. The company currently employs more than 500 people.
In an obituary published in the Long Island Press, family and friends expressed the legacy that Joe left in both the waste industry and the Long Island, NY community.
"Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Joe have lost a dear friend and source of inspiration,” they wrote in a statement. “Joe leaves behind a company and a team that only he could have built with such determination and direction of excellence that would make anyone proud.”
Jimmy Winters, Joe's brother and co-owner, commented, “My brother was the most dedicated, hardworking individual I knew and that showed in every aspect of his life both personally and professionally. His commitment to improving our region for the betterment of future generations coupled with his passion for helping others, leaves behind an everlasting legacy that our family is extremely proud of and one we will continue in his memory.”
Colleagues also expressed their sentiments. Steve Soucy, CFO of Winters Bros., wrote that a "true visionary" has been lost.
He added, "Joe was always focused on making Long Island a great place to live and work. He wanted to keep Long Island green and enhance society through his efforts to help people with autism."
Winters was a National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) Hall of Famer, and he often provided insight into running a successful business. Throughout his life, he was involved in the acquisition of more than 100 companies and numerous start-ups.
“I think the future is bright as long as we remain focused on the fundamentals—operating safely, providing great customer service, and complying with the rules and regulations that govern the business,” he told Waste360 in 2017. “And, because the business is constantly evolving, successful companies must have a willingness to adapt and change to the environment around us.”
Winters is survived by his wife Michele and his two sons Patrick and Sean. In addition, he has four brothers, Sean, Jimmy, Michael and Andrew.
"The two sayings my dad drilled into my head growing up are 'Hard work pays off' and 'Never forget where you came from,'" his son Patrick told Waste360 in 2019. "My family has been in the garbage industry for over 50 years, dating back to my grandfather and great uncle. Three generations continuing a family business is difficult, so we're lucky to say we've been able to do that. What's even more special are the stories and experiences shared over time. Starting with one truck and a single route, I take a lot of pride in knowing where my family has come from to where we are now and where we want to be."
After his son Sean was diagnosed with autism in 1998, Winters became an advocate for those on the spectrum. Winters Bros. began hiring individuals with developmental disabilities and remains a large supporter of autism through various charitable efforts. In August 2020, the family's nonprofit broke ground on the Winters Center for Autism, a 21,000 sq. ft. two-building facility that includes instructional space and a "state-of-the-art" campus that will be a place for individuals with autism to learn vocational and life skills. The nonprofit facility also will be a hub to assist businesses who wish to develop programs for those on the spectrum. It is expected to be completed in May 2021. To continue his legacy, the Winters family requests charitable donations be made to the Winters Center for Autism.
“Joe’s spirit and vision will continue to guide us,” the Winters family wrote in the obituary. “No words can adequately express our sadness and loss associated with Joe’s passing or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.”
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