PAWLING, N.Y.—Roger W. Smith, longtime president and chairman of Pawling Corp. and a rubber industry and community leader, died May 11 at the age of 75 of kidney cancer.
Smith spent his entire career at diversified rubber and plastics goods maker Pawling. He succeeded his father as president of the family-owned business and served as its president for 30 years. In 2006, he retired from that post and continued as chairman, a title he held for 25 years.
Under his leadership, Pawling grew to $50 million in sales, withstood some lean years and returned to that level, and split into two companies with different family ownership and management when he retired from day-to-day management. He also instituted an Employee Stock Ownership Plan in 1996 to ensure the company remained locally owned and operated.
“Roger had a great impact on Pawling Corp. and the rubber industry as a whole,” said Craig Busby, president of Pawling Engineered Products Inc. “His family, and mine, trace back to the old Johnson Rubber days in Middlefield, Ohio, and he kept in touch with the historical society there.”
Busby's great uncle, Smith Johnson, founded Pawling in 1945 with Raymond Thornburg, and Roger Smith's father, Howard Smith, joined the firm the following year. Roger Smith's son, Jason, is president of Presray Corp., which had been a division of Pawling.
Smith was a visible figure in the industry for many years. He served as a board member of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, the rubber industry's primary trade association. He was very involved with the group's Molded Rubber Products Division, and he, his wife Betty and other family members were participants at many of the group's annual meetings.
He was also chairman of the Council of Industry.
Under Smith's leadership, Pawling survived while many of its peers in the rubber industry fell. In an interview at his retirement party in 2006, Smith said the firm picked its niches carefully and was willing to change with the times. It also had a diversified product line, more so than typical companies of its size.
One of the businesses it entered was custom mixing, in which Smith was most directly involved. The operation thrived and became Pawling's top sales generator, but ultimately it was squeezed between large customers and big suppliers. The firm left the business.
“It was painful but the right thing to do,” Smith said. The company eventually bounced back, and by the time he retired, it had 350 employees and was doing well.
Smith said Pawling moved to the ESOP because often when a family-owned business is sold, the new owners have no compunction to move the company. That's not something Smith—who was very involved in community affairs—wanted to see happen.
Born in Worcester, Mass., Smith moved to Pawling, in the Berkshire Mountains about 65 miles from New York City, in 1946 when his father joined Pawling Rubber Corp. He was a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and Columbia Business School.
Smith was a volunteer with many community groups and projects, serving as a board member and president of several organizations.
He was known for his love of sports and dogs, and he and his wife of nearly 50 years rescued more than 20 labs from shelters.
Smith often traveled with this family to historical American landmarks and helped promote local history events. In later years he and Betty Smith traveled frequently to Europe, particularly England.
Besides his wife, Smith is survived by his daughter Stacey Delamere and her husband Kiernan of Sherman, Conn.; sons Todd of Pawling and Jason and his wife Stephanie of Pawling; sister Valerie Busby and her husband, Bob; brother Stephen and his wife Catharine; five grandchildren and many nieces, nephews and their children.
The family asked that contributions in his name be made to the Christ Church on Quaker Hill at 17 Church Road, Pawling, N.Y. 12564.