Funeral services were held Aug. 10 for Joseph E. Lewis Jr., owner of Jerry's Marine Service in Fort Lauderdale and one of the founding fathers of South Florida's vibrant marine industry. Lewis died Aug. 6 at the age of 74.
"This represents the passing of a generation, one that helped build and grow South Florida's marine industry," says Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.
Lewis and his wife, Helen, who died last year, were heavily involved in industry activities throughout their careers. Herhold says he first met Joe years ago at an advisory board meeting for the McFatter Marine Technology Center. Helen was MIASF's first woman president and a past winner of the Marine Retailers Association of America's Darlene Briggs Award as the industry's national "woman of the year."
Mike Gibbs, general manager of Barr Marine, had known Joe Lewis for more than 25 years. Barr manufactures marine exhaust systems distributed by Jerry's Marine. "He's run one of the most successful distributorships that I know of," says Gibbs. "He's always been a very cordial, down-to-earth person."
Another industry colleague, Marine Power president Eddy Albright, remembers him as an "awesome guy" who was "full of energy. He was probably happiest on the forklift, straightening out his warehouse," Albright says.
Albright started doing business with Jerry's Marine in 1986, when Marine Power expanded its commercial marine business into the recreational market. "He really helped Marine Power grow in the early years," he says.
Lewis was born June 11, 1935, in Cold Springs, N.Y. He became an outboard mechanic in the late 1950s and worked at his father's marine business in Bricktown, N.J. He moved to Florida in 1964, where he worked as a marine mechanic and business owner of Lewis Boat Sales & Service until 1973.
Lewis married Helen Novic in 1968, and in 1973, the two teamed up with longtime partner and friend Bobby Laborde to purchase Jerry's Marine, an inboard engine sales and service dealership. The new owners quickly transformed the dealership into a distributorship specializing in "hard parts" - marine engines, parts, transmissions, steering systems and remote controls.
By the late '70s, Jerry's Marine became a pioneer in the development of the marine aftermarket parts industry, where it has held the lead position for more than 30 years. With warehouses in Fort Lauderdale, Charleston, S.C., and Lakewood, N.J., the company covers the East Coast from the Florida Keys to Maine.
Lewis is survived by his sons Joe, Doug, Tim and Jon; five grandchildren - Joe IV, Andy, Alea, Anessa and Shane; and an older sister, Carol Harvey.
Today, the four sons manage Jerry's Marine's three locations. "Helen and Joe passed on their love of the industry to their children, the next generation," says Herhold.
At the request of the family, dress for services at Fred Hunter Funeral Home in Fort Lauderdale was "Joe Lewis casual" - Hawaiian shirt preferred, socks optional.
Contributions may be made in his memory to Hospice of Gold Coast, 2101 W. Commercial Blvd., Suite 4500, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309.
This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue.