When I came to PJ in 1987 Rich Theiss was one of the first people I spoke to on the phone at PJ. I had called him after getting my first “Marine Gear” inquiry. Keep in mind this was before Skype, e-mail, or even fax machines! Even over the phone I could quickly tell that Rich was passionate, knew Marine Product, our customers, the competition, and how to use our system!
I met him and his wife, Ann, in person at our Annual Meeting which was held in Memphis that year. “Bud-Man,” as he was known, literally hugged me and lifted me off the ground when we met! My wife, Char, was hoping he wouldn’t do the same to her, and, of course, he was a true gentleman and gave her a gentle hug.
A True Passion for PJ
Rich was the Service Manager in Fenton for almost 3 decades. First, he put the Fenton shop on the map, then he made it successful. Rich was a true blue, passionate PJ guy. As important as his work may have been to Rich, nothing touched his family. No matter what you called him for, the conversation would turn to what his grandchildren were up to (I believe he had 10!). And he’d always ask how your kids were doing... he would even remember their names. He was loved by his family and by many of us at PJ who were lucky enough to have known him.
Rich took pride in developing and keeping customers in his area, as the branches then were focused on developing their local territory. Service Billing doubled from 1987 -1994 and Rich was instrumental in the growth of service in Territory 4, as it was known at that time. Rich was a company man through and through and was willing to help with any Marine or Torque Converter questions and much of what I have learned about both of those I owe to Rich. Rich freely shared his knowledge and was patient as I am sure I asked the same questions over and over many times.
Jason Theiss (JT) Joins the Legacy
In March of 1994 Jason Theiss, Rich’s son, or JT as he is known, came to work at Palmer Johnson. JT started on a part-time basis as an apprentice and went to full-time status after graduating with a Biology Degree in May. Rich would later confide that Ann, his wife, was not particularly happy that JT came to PJ after getting his degree in Biology. I think that sentiment changed after Rich and Ann both saw JT’s desire to learn and his attention to detail and taking care of customers. JT has always been willing to go on a Service Call when a tugboat was down and needed service, even when we often got service calls in the middle of the night and on weekends!
Every time I went down to Fenton, I often got to see Rich and JT interact and always work as a team. They were well known on the Mississippi River as the “go-to” for any Marine and Torque Converter challenges. I also got to hear Rich talk daily to his “little buddy” Steve Sorg from Lenexa, and of course, Rich, like many of us were deeply saddened when Steve unexpectedly passed away. Rich also showed us how we treated each other like family through thick and thin.
Three Generations at PJ
Unfortunately, Rich succumbed to Pancreatic Cancer in July of 2014. Even while he was receiving treatment, he still found days to check on the Fenton branch and PJ to see how things were going and to offer any assistance he could provide.
That following year PJ decided to make a company donation towards pancreatic research in Rich’s name, we also honored Rich during the 2015 Company Oktoberfest walk/run. There was also an early morning toast with a bottle of Bud in Rich’s honor. Another example of Rich’s impact on PJ and PJ caring for our employees!
This is just a snippet, but we have had a long history of the Theiss family providing quality service for PJ and our customers for many years, and we are all the better as a company! In the summer of 2018 JT’s nephew (Rich’s grandchild), Andrew joined the team in Fenton and continues the legacy of Rich Theiss.