In May of this year, our industry community was delivered shocking and sad news when we learned that Bill Freeman, owner of The Spirit Group manufacturers’ representative agency in Florida, passed away.
I remember Bill vividly and fondly as an industry guru who personified excellence with a shot of wit and fun. Bill was active in the industry he loved so; his involvement — from volunteer work on industry boards to always lending an ear and a hand and guiding others on their path — made the industry more robust, vibrant and fun.
Bill is missed by many, yet his spirit will live on through those who he guided, and how he touched our souls.
As a manufacturer’s rep, Bill worked with Charlotte Pipe for more than 40 years. “He embodied everything that we strived to be at Charlotte Pipe and was the best ambassador we could ever ask for,” says Jenner Wood, vice president at Charlotte Pipe and Foundry. Bill, known for his lines of wisdom and guidance, would meet you where you were and guide you subtly, yet directly.
Wood recalls: “One of Bill’s most common lines was, ‘I’m not going to tell you how to run your business, but this is what I would do.’ More often than not, we listened to Bill’s feedback, and his steady leadership has guided our growth in Florida. We will remember Bill as a fierce competitor, a loving husband, father and a dear friend. He will be missed!”
As a mentor and leader, Bill was an industry statesman who would give his time, guidance and life lessons to help others on their paths. He was an active member of AIM/R, The Association of Industry Manufacturers’ Representatives, where he was president from 2006 to 2007.
Incoming AIM/R president Brian Morgan, principal of the Morgan Group, recalls Bill’s impact on the organization: “AIM/R will deeply miss Bill Freeman. He was always an active member willing to raise a hand to help, share a story of the past or offer his thoughts on how the association could continue to succeed in the future. He was a devoted businessman to this industry and has left it a better place from his years of involvement. I will miss spending time with Bill at our annual AIM/R conferences as we always found time to sit and have some great conversations about business, family and life.”
Bill’s success was due to his convictions of hard work and customer partnerships. “I had known Bill for years before he started the Spirit Group,” recalls Tracy Bond, owner of Bond Supply.
He recounted Bill’s directness when Bill reached out to him once starting The Spirit Group: “He called me and asked if he could take me to lunch, and right off the bat, we didn’t see eye to eye. The purpose of his visit was to inform me that I was buying my plastic fittings and pipe from the wrong company. I didn’t like anyone telling me I was making a mistake and let him know. He was not swayed or afraid of me. Bill loved Charlotte Pipe, and I would love Charlotte Pipe also if I gave it a chance. Charlotte became one of my major lines, and within a few years, the company I bought from previously burned to the ground.”
Bond notes what so many others feel: “Bill was a good man. It’s not hard to see — you can tell a lot about a person from who they chose to be their life partner and see their children. Bill’s wife, Sheree, is one of the best you will ever meet, and his sons Ben, Chase and Mike are all men to be so proud of.”
Longtime industry friend Eddie Gibbs, retired senior vice president of vendor relations for Winsupply, had known Bill for 40 years.
“Bill was a great family man who, along with his wife, Sheree, built one of the premier rep agencies in the plumbing industry from the ground up,” Gibbs notes. “He was honest and loyal to all his friends and business partners, and always quick to lend a hand. Bill and I had many great times together on and off the clock, and he never failed to make me and those around us laugh. He left a tremendous family legacy that will sustain Sprit Group well into the future. I will miss him greatly.”
How one remembers another speaks volumes of how they impacted one’s life. Patrick Aquino, vice president of sales and wholesaler plumbing at Oatey Co., states what so many others are feeling.
“Bill was a man that always put his family first and helped so many people in so many ways,” Aquino explains. “Bill was passionate about getting the best out of his three sons, employees, manufacturers and friends. His passion helped pave the way for many people, personally and professionally. I have learned a lot from Bill and am honored to have had the chance to work with him and call him a friend. Bill’s spirit will not be forgotten, and his legacy will live forever.”
Rest easy, Bill.