WHEN JERRY SCHWARTZ passed away on Sept. 29, 2003, several days after sustaining internal injuries from an automobile accident, the waste industry lost one of its most colorful characters. Jerry was a high-energy dynamo with a biting wit, a man of intellect, and above all, the best damn ad salesman in the business.
Bill Wolpin, editorial director of Waste Age magazine, and I attended Jerry's funeral on Long Island, N.Y. It truly was a celebration of his life, with his beloved wife, Dorothy, several of his children, and a grandson telling funny and moving stories that described the man Jerry was and what he stood for.
According to Dorothy, Jerry was at his happiest when Waste Age passed the “plop test.” “Jerry would come home, hold the current issue of the magazine shoulder high, drop it, and if it made a big plop sound, then he knew it was loaded with advertisements. He had made money for the magazine,” she said. According to Dorothy, when people asked what he did for a living, Jerry would proudly proclaim, “I'm a garbageman.”
With his more than 30 years in the industry, Jerry built deep and lasting relationships with manufacturers and others to whom he sold advertising space. When times were tough, he sold ads based on loyalty — simply because “it was Jerry.” Everyone loved to talk to this man, to absorb his New York attitude, his often outrageous perceptions on people and events, and to get information, gossip and insights on trends and developments in the waste industry. He was the industry's Walter Winchell.
Indeed, Jerry was a walking encyclopedia of information. Until the past few years, Jerry delivered the “Schwartz Report,” at the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) Fall board meeting, more formally known as the state of the industry report. And barely a month went by when I, and countless others, did not receive an envelope bursting with ripped out magazine and newspaper articles about this or that, and with Jerry's scribblings in the margins. At other times, he would call on the telephone to give advice or provide information, and then hang up … eccentric Jerry, typical Jerry.
At sales meetings, when it was Jerry's turn to speak, he would take out a black valise from under the table, pull out a huge stack of manila folders, put on half glasses dangling from his neck with his signature gold chain, and begin to read and work his way through the material in the folders. When he finished, he would reach under the table for another black valise, pull out more folders and off he was again. The younger sales staff were rapt in attention at his every word. His knowledge and experience mesmerized them.
John Aquino, former Waste Age editor, tells a story about Jerry I also remember, which brings a smile to my face. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was investigating a proposed merger of two trash companies for potential antitrust problems. The lead attorney was told that if he wanted to understand the solid waste industry, Jerry Schwartz was the go-to guy. When the investigator called, Jerry tried to sell him an ad. The lawyer said no, and Jerry hung up after telling him he had more important things to do … stubborn Jerry, typical Jerry. Yes, he ultimately was subpoenaed and his information was helpful in the DOJ's decision-making process.
Jerry Schwartz was a loving husband and father. He was a “mensch,” a Yiddish word for an honorable, decent, responsible and ethical man. But above all, he was the best damn ad salesman in the business.
He was buried in a simple, pine coffin, in which his wife, Dorothy, placed copies of Waste Age magazine, a shoulder bag containing an ad sales kit and toy garbage trucks.
Bruce Parker is the president of the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.