What a year. Good riddance and let’s hope for a turn around in 2009. Most people feel surviving 2009 will be the key and things should improve in 2010. With banks failing, construction starts down, and stocks in the tank, it can only get better. This year was a bad year for us in the industry on another front.

Ironically, the January 2008 issue featured the Up Front editorial of the passing of an industry figure, John Bucholtz. The last issue of 2008 will feature the passing of another industry legend and friend, Walt Pruter.

For those of you who did not know Walt, you missed out. He passed away on November 10, 2008 and will be sorely missed by the industry, an industry that owes him a debt of gratitude. Walt had been instrumental in the development of codes that related to lath, plaster, drywall and steel framing. Based in Southern California, his expertise was renowned throughout the United States. Walt was featured in the 70th anniversary issue of Walls & Ceilings in September. Now he is gone, but certainly not to be forgotten. 

I mentioned in my January editorial that I missed out on meeting John. I wished I had sat down with him and reflected on the industry. I vowed not to make that mistake with other industry legends in that same editorial. I kept that promise to myself and went to Walt’s home in the Palm Springs, Calif., area and spent a pleasant afternoon with a first class gentleman.

Tuesday’s with Morrie

Walt was involved with the industry for 50 years and his fingerprints are all over the industry from coast to coast. His impressions and life lessons would be invaluable to me. He had unique views on architects, building departments and contractors. He felt the architectural community had lost some of its attention to detail or common sense on basic building practices; he wasn’t quite sure how to put his finger on it. I suggested an over-reliance on computers and lack of training in traditional building materials may have played a part in the shift. He reflected for a moment and said, “You may have a point kid.” Walt also noted how much had changed, how many new systems, products and criss-crossing of the codes. This led him to feel architects and building departments would need the technical services of a bureau more than ever before.

Walt had a very unique relationship with the wall and ceiling contractors. He was honest to a fault. He had no problem telling a contractor he was wrong. He had the unique ability to remain respected even after delivering bad news on a site review. I know from experience. In the early ’70s he inspected a job for my father’s company and while my dad did not necessarily agree with Walt’s assessment of his work, he respected him as an expert and never spoke poorly of him.

Walt was a veracious reader and sharp as a tack right up to the end. He continued to provide guidance and assistance to the Technical Services Information Bureau. The creation of the TSIB was a direct result of the work Walt had done for years building a plaster bureau known for technical expertise. The bureau’s director, Michael Logue, knew he had big shoes to fill and relied on Walt’s expertise and mentorship. Walt and I spoke about this issue too. He looked at Michael as kind of an adopted grandson and knew he was charged to carry on the tradition and his choice was perfect. The torch is handed on to the young, capable apprentice and then mentored along. Walt did this for Michael. Walt guided him, nurtured him and finally left this earth when he was sure Michael was now the master and could carry on without his help in the same style and class that Walt was known for. 

His reputation in the architectural community was unsurpassed and will not soon be forgotten. Letters, specifications and recommendations he had written over the years still circulate within the industry as a standard. His writings in all the trade publications and architectural magazines could fill a library. Many of these have his unique take on the subject and are unmistakably a Pruter idea or concept. Not surprising to me, I received a phone call three minutes after I was informed of Walt’s passing. The specification was unmistakably Pruter specification and as I spoke to the young architect about the intent and use of the Pruter concept, I could not help but think he was up there looking down on me with his wry smile and grandfather demeanor. I could almost hear him in that distinctive Walt Pruter voice referencing what section of the code he was relating that particular item to.

So goodbye 2008, we hope we can look back in better times and you will be a distant memory. Better times are coming. And to quote Walt, “I don’t care if it is politically incorrect-Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.”