A memorial tribute to industry veteran and lighting sales representative David Stark of Lighting Concepts International in Scottsdale.
Hey! When am I going to be the centerfold of your magazine?” David Stark would greet me with that line at every Dallas Market since I first met him in 1994. To make sure he was clear, he’d then pantomime holding a magazine vertically and add, “I’d like it to be a fold-out, too.”
Was he serious? Yes and no. Yes, he would have been thrilled to participate if the offer was ever made, but no, I don’t think he was actively counting on it — well, maybe just a little bit. With David, you never quite knew when he was joking or not with some of the outlandish things he’d say, but that was part of his charm.
While everyone in the industry instantly recognizes David for his happy-go-lucky nature, there was a serious businessman underneath. I discovered that aspect when interviewing him for a story on his agency in 2012. It wasn’t the nude centerfold he had been asking for; he was disappointed to learn the article would be about him and his business — and he was surprisingly shy in talking about himself.
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“He filled every room he entered with light and life. The world is a dimmer place without my father.” —Matt Stark [/mks_pullquote]
Growing up in a military family that moved all over the country, he had a talent for making friends wherever he was. It was while earning his Business degree at the University of Notre Dame that he happened upon a part-time job that seemed tailor-made for him: working for Anheuser-Busch, promoting Budweiser® in university bars and offering promotional paraphernalia to fellow students and bar patrons. Not surprisingly, this college student was so good at the task, the opportunity turned into a full-time job with the beer giant in Florida.
During the interview, he was quick to point out the similarities. “The lighting industry, especially back [in the 1970s and ’80s], was a very social atmosphere. Many deals were made over golf outings and other casual get-togethers,” he told me. Yet, he still maintained a sense of formality with his handwritten Thank You notes (I am the recipient of some) and his insistence on wearing a jacket and tie — even in summertime in the Sunbelt — when calling on customers. He knew what retailers wanted because he had been one in Florida before moving to Arizona. The first manufacturer he represented was Lightcraft, followed by a 30-year career representing Sea Gull Lighting and other manufacturers such as Hinkley.
Rather than publicly flaunt his business acumen, David preferred to be underestimated. Ask him for his viewpoint on a current challenge facing lighting retailers (or reps) and he’d provide a valuable and insightful assessment — but he’d rather make you laugh.
Rick Wiedemer, President of Hinkley Lighting, recalls, “To say David was unique is an understatement; he was truly one for all time. On one hand, he was a consummate salesman in the most buttoned up and traditional sense. On the other hand, he was a jokester with the ability to hold a crowd on the edge of their seats while he told a story. David will be missed by so many and can never be replaced. He was an All Star for Hinkley, not only in a business sense but just as importantly as a spirit and personality that uplifted everyone around him. I have lost a good friend.”
Allen Childers, of Statewide Lighting in Scottsdale, and his family was devastated by the news of David’s passing. “We lost one of our truly best friends and family members. David enjoyed life to the fullest and was always there for support. He loved the lighting industry and was always available to help it grow. For 40 years in the industry, he went over and beyond to make things better and made it fun in the process. The party did not start until David arrived — whether it was a family dinner, birthday, Christmas, or a convention with thousands of people. You always knew when he arrived and he usually was there to say good night to the last person,” he recalls.
“[My wife] Robin and I first met David through Rader and Beverly Rollins (Robin’s parents) when he was introduced as ‘one of their lighting reps.’ Little did we know what an integral member of our family he would become! When we moved to Scottsdale, he assured them he would watch out for us and we became family,” Childers recounts. “As his family lived in cold country and he only visited in the warm months, our family was his family and we enjoyed almost every holiday or birthday at one house or the other. Our girls growing up considered him their ‘crazy uncle’ who loved to have fun. I remember one time when Aimee was in high school and just started to date. David was at the house when the boy arrived to pick her up, and on the spur of the moment, David decided to be me. That poor kid! He was drilled and questioned about his intentions and planned activities for the night with his daughter. Our daughter was laughing hysterically from upstairs and allowed David to continue for quite some time. They did manage to get out the door and not sure what ever happened to the young man after that,” Childers states. “Place settings at our Thanksgiving and Christmas table won’t be the same. The last few years I managed to get him to try different healthy foods like kale salad and even a quinoa dish, but for the most part if the food wasn’t beige, it wasn’t for him. His idea of having a salad was the lettuce and tomato on his hamburger.”
David loved Nascar, Indy Car, plays at ASU Gammage, Country Thunder, gymnastic events, and even Disney on Ice – always inviting someone to join him, according to Childers. “Golf was always a fun time and the cart girls wherever he played were asked for an 8×10 glossy picture for his collection — he never really got one, but he always asked. I remember one of his greatest thrills was going to Australia just to watch the America’s Cup races,” Childers says. “ALA conventions were sure to be a success with David there to get things started. The lighting industry was a real passion of his and he was always available to assist the industry. He could start a conversation with anybody anytime, and by the time you parted you were friends with him. His professionalism was always visible with his monogrammed “DS” shirts, (always on the right cuff so when you shook his hand, it was visible), and a handwritten Thank You note for whatever he attended. David’s friendship will be greatly missed.”
Adds Jeff Levkowitz of Sun Lighting in Tucson, “David was a great rep and friend. He always asked about my family. He met and knew everyone at our office. He was always dressed to impress and could make anyone laugh. He will be missed by so many.”
David May of Minka has fond memories of David. “Who would have thought one man could touch so many? All of us feel the loss of a great friend in David Stark. Known by many, forgotten by few, David was the quintessential salesman. Always pressed and polite, ready to offer a hearty handshake topped with his beaming smile, David was a great communicator,” he shares.
“The first time I met David was in 1988. As a young sales representative for Fredrick Ramond, I was calling on Billing’s Lighting in Tucson. I recall watching David work with the lighting buyer, methodically making his presentation. I noted how effectively he interacted, offering product insights and inspiration while incorporating his wit and humor to keep things interesting. I later watched him talk with others in the operation. He spoke by name to everyone and recalled the names of their spouses, children, and their activities. He introduced himself to me and I have to say, I felt an immediate friendship, recognizing David’s inherent kindness. As I left the showroom that day I recalled saying, ‘This is the type of representative I want to be!’
“Later in my career, I found myself on the other side of the table with David as one of his customers. To say David was thorough would be an understatement. From the handwritten follow-up letter or card sent after each meeting, to the birthday and Christmas cards, you could tell that David was genuine. My family, like many, was blessed to have David attend a number of events from graduations to weddings. His presence was like that of a personal attaché, meeting and greeting and taking time to talk with everyone while employing his unique sense of humor and conversation,” May says.
“Whether he was at the ALA convention, the Dallas Market, or on the dance floor, David was tireless. With a glass of ‘the cheapest white wine you’ve got’ (on ice of course), David was the darling of the ball. He enjoyed life like no one I have known. Finding the best in everyone and everything, he showed a love for life not realized by most. David’s friendship was something he shared with everyone; he was one of the kindest people I have ever met. David will surely be missed by all of us. I am thankful he was a part of my life.”
David’s children also shared their memories on social media. “I was lucky enough to have David as my step-dad and he was the best you could ask for. The first time I came out to Arizona with my mom to visit him, he took us to a Shania Twain concert. At first I thought he was trying to win over a teenage girl by taking her to the concert, but little did I know the concert was more for him. He knew every song, every lyric, and was a huge fan. He won me over instantly. David was definitely one of a kind and a great man,” says Josie Chase of Carmel, Indiana.
His son Matt Stark wrote, “My mother and father divorced before I was off formula, so many of the memories of my father were artificial ones, cultivated through photos of him that were taken in the years prior to my birth that had been stashed away in a drawer. Over the years, those photos became faded and frayed as I combed through the stack, cultivating his personality and lifestyle using an imagination that only an only child can possess. I thumbed past a photo of my father dressed in nothing more than a striped tube sock. He was carrying a tennis racket and was marching, one knee high in the air. Behind him were four others. One was wearing nothing but a case of beer around his waist. My father though, was the leader. He was the alpha dog; the instigator. He was….my hero.”
Combing through those photos as a child was interesting for Matt, who was searching for clues as to what his father was like. “In one hazy blue image, my father could be seen in a Speedo and neoprene top, his legs frozen in mid-kick. Affixed to his back was a diving tank. A mask, snorkel, fins and weight belt accessorized his outfit. Ahead of him, held forward in his hand, was a large spear gun. Now, being a latch key kid allowed me to cultivate an expansive imagination. Mind you, I grew up in the days before video games, so entertainment came in the form of cultivated fantasy worlds and my imagination was pretty warped (the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree). The photos of my father were the gateways to an imaginary world, where my dad was the hero. His imaginary life in this photo had him searching the depths of the Atlantic for a monstrous Great White.
“My father was larger than life in many ways, but his accomplishments through my imaginative screenplays paled in comparison to who he became when, in the summer of 1986, he knocked on my door. My mother, a ball of nerves and clearly hesitant, encouraged me to open the door. I did and looking down on me with a disarming smile was David Stark, shark hunter extraordinaire. ‘Hello Matt,’ he said. ‘I’m David (your father).’ The later statement became an inside joke of sorts. It was how he would sign his greeting cards to me, as if I couldn’t figure out on my own who they were coming from.
‘To my wonderful son, Happy Birthday! Love
David (your father).’
“His baritone voice was shocking; the twinkle in his eye was playful, and through our first conversations I found out much about my father, and so ended my father’s imaginative career as a shark hunter. He was far from that. He was a lighting professional, and over the years, I found out what that meant.
“Many years and many visits later, my father flew in to meet me at the restaurant where I was a manager. It was closing time, and there was still a lot of paperwork to do. I asked him to meet me at a local bar up the street in an hour. He went ahead, allowing me to close the restaurant. I walked into the bar expecting to see my father and then wrongfully assumed he was in the restroom. I approached the bartender for a drink only to see my father was sitting to my left. His presence had been obscured by four or five attractive young women who were clinging to his shoulders and giggling. In the short hour my father was in this bar, his gift of gab allowed him to make some new friends. I admired that. See, my dad was a ‘lighting professional.’ These girls were like moths, and my father, he was like a porch light. I might have said, bug zapper, because he was – in his own mind — a lady killer, but my dad never took energy from a room the way a bug zapper might snuff out the energy of a moth. Instead, he filled every room he entered with light and life. The world is a dimmer place without my father.”
The lighting world echoes those feelings so eloquently expressed by his children and friends. Dallas Markets — and the people whose lives he touched whether through work or recreation — won’t be the same without David Stark among us.
His son added, “My dad, being who he was, did not want a traditional ceremony and burial. He asked to be cremated and his ashes spread off the coast of Maui. He did share with me on his last visit, ‘If people want to get together for a drink and share stories, I guess I’d be ok with that, too.’ He always did things a bit different.”
While there is a memorial planned in Arizona by his friends on September 10, I invite members of the industry to take time during the January Dallas Market to toast to David’s life, whether it’s a small gathering at a showroom he frequented or just a toast between two industry friends who meet up randomly during Market. Let’s remember David in the manner he wanted.