The untimely passing of Bobbi Lehr has struck a note with many in the foodservice industry. For 60 plus years, Bobbi Lehr was a staple at many industry events. From the elegance she brought while touring the aisles of many trade shows at the Javits Center to her yearly visits to the AJC-American Jewish Committee dinners, there was only one Bobbi Lehr.
Her passion and zest for life knew no bounds. From her devotion to her incredible husband Joe Lehr to her three children Jodi, Toni and Kim and her seven grandchildren, one great grand daughter and one on the way, Bobbi Lehr brought a very special kind of love. But for those of us in the industry who were blessed to call her our friend, she truly cared.
She worked side by side behind the scenes as her husband built the iconic Glissen brand. Soon after he joined the company, Joe was assigned the task of developing his father’s business in New England and the Pennsylvania areas. With Glissen’s single Nu-Foam product in hand, he started knocking on the distributors doors.
“The success of Glissen was built by two not one,” Jodie explained. “In my parents unique partnership of 60 years Mom was often the silent knight that stole the show. Her sensitivity to people and keen sense of awareness made her the sounding board of everything Glissen. She participated in and relished the sales meetings, business dinners and important relationships built over the years. Mom walked industry trade shows annually and would also get involved in whatever marketing piece or letter that was brought home for her feedback and review. Her handprints are everywhere.”
Much of their personal time together was spent sharing business meetings, business events and much entertaining of customers who became dear friends over the years. They truly built Glissen together, based on mutual respect, decisions and their needs.
So as Joe traveled, Bobbi was there to guide their three daughters, each of which coincidentally have carved successful careers in the foodservice industry. Daughter Jodi operates a coffee firm, Kim is a well-known equipment rep, and Toni is one of the marketplace’s most knowledgeable food purveyors.
“Growing up with a mother like Bobbi Lehr taught me so many invaluable lessons,” Kim Lehr reminisced. First, her family and loving us meant everything. She was selfless, loved unconditionally and made every day special in some small way. However, that was who she was. Mom treated her friends and acquaintances the same way.”
“Mom influenced my strength and belief in myself because she constantly reinforced what we were capable of,” added Kim Lehr. “She was unconditionally supportive in whatever we wanted and taught me to care, love life and humanity. Most of all she played a tremendous role in making me the mother I am today: her love and dedication to family set a very high bar and influenced me in the love and energy I’ve devoted to my own family.”
“During the day her kids were mom’s life but she managed to do it all,” Toni Lehr continued. “As soon as Dad walked in the door everything changed. Conversation switched to Glissen, events of the day and issues at hand. This was our norm and in hindsight probably led to my sisters and I becoming involved in the hospitality/food service industry. It’s all we know.”
“Our mother influenced me tremendously,” Kim Lehr said. “She exuded kindness and I hope that I will honor her in my life by being kind, interested and considerate. I don’t think I have ever heard Bobbi Lehr say a negative thing about anyone my whole life! I value this positivity and strive for goodness myself and hopefully, am teaching my children that these are the qualities that will set them apart. She also taught me the importance of making things around us beautiful and going the extra mile to do so, happily. She had fresh flowers on the table every day. She set a beautiful table for every meal. Bobbi Lehr was the epitome of the consummate hostess. She was a naturally wonderful cook and entertainer who created a fabulous setting for friends and family no matter what she and dad’s “economic” place in life was. She warmly welcomed all who entered her home and made you feel so incredibly loved and special. My sisters and I have incorporated these values into our own lives and credit mom for her teachings.”
Jodi Lehr concluded: “In the last month I’ve realized how many people (from all walks of life) we’ve shared our parents with. Mom had the uncanny ability to do this all very quietly while she succeeded in making everyone she touched feel so very important and special.”
Bobbi Lehr’s impact on the industry was so unusual in that it crossed generational lines. She shared a very special friendship with Restaurant Depot founder Jerry Cohen and his wife Naomi. That bond grew as their son Larry Cohen and son- in-law Clark Pager grew “The Depot” into a national powerhouse.
“I know that unique can be overused but in this case it’s just the right term for someone really special,” Larry Cohen noted. “She had a rare mix of an artistic, stylish flair coupled with both a warmth and a pure kindness. I used to say, she was always the calm in the storm. She did not have a mean bone and saw the good in everything. Most importantly there was always a peace around her.”
“Bobbi Lehr was a class act,” said Clark Pager. “I could always count on her sending me a handmade birthday card every year with one of her illustrations on the cover. My birthday will never be the same. She was kind, caring and always had a smile on her face.”
Among the multi-generational customer/friendship relations was with the DeFelice family and their Bar Boy Products business based on Long Island. “When we first met Bobbi over 40 years ago with Joe you immediately knew she was special,” said Lenny DeFelice. “My wife and I always looked forward to receiving Bobbi’s Holiday card. It was always a beautiful piece of art that she created, she will truly be missed.”
For those of us in the industry who were honored to feel the love and call her our friend, Bobbi’s legacy will live forever. “All who knew mom knew that she always had a beautiful smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. She was the happiest, most fulfilled, blessed woman,” Kim Lehr noted. “She understood and lived the true meaning of life. To live every day as if it were a gift and she did!”