Jeff New, president of Elkhart, Indiana-based Mid-City Supply, first met Dottie Ramsey at a WIT buying group meeting in 1998. He immediately gravitated toward one of the industry’s all-time great individuals.
“Mid-City’s and Modern Supply’s tables were next to each other. They arranged the tables alphabetically,” New recalled. “There was an immediate attraction. She was tough, but in a sweet way. She always said what was on her mind, totally honest and transparent. We would see each other twice a year at the WIT meetings and became pretty close.”
New and legions throughout the PHCP-PVF industry have stories very similar about the iconic Ramsey, who died Aug. 16 after suffering a heart attack a week earlier. Ramsey was the longtime former president and COO of Knoxville, Tennessee-based Modern Supply, running the company with business partner and CEO Pace Robinson. Modern Supply is now part of Hajoca Corp.
“Dottie Ramsey is a true legend in our industry,” said Lee Steinhouse, whose Nashville, Tennessee-based Steinhouse Supply was acquired by Southern Pipe & Supply late last year. “Her love of the industry and both SWA and ASA was an inspiration to all of us in the industry. You always knew where she stood on any issue and she was always proven correct. My 40-year association with Dottie at industry meetings, as well as her personal advice is one of my favorite memories of my career she will be missed.”
Ramsey was the first woman to serve as American Supply Association president and Southern Wholesalers Association president. She was the recipient of the prestigious ASA Fred V. Keenan Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to her at NETWORK2016 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
“Our industry and association are stronger today due to the trailblazing vision of Dottie Ramsey,” ASA CEO Mike Adelizzi said. “Today, our Women in Industry division and ASA’s focus on recruiting women into our industry can look at Dottie’s career as a role model.”
New recalled it was Ramsey who set him on the track to become ASA president. “As Dottie moved up the ranks of ASA leadership, she brought me along with her,” he said. “She was the one who convinced me to join the ASA exec board, which eventually led to me serving as president in 2008. I remember the day she called me to tell me it was ‘my turn’ to be president. She said, “You know why I am calling, don’t you?’ I did not, but she informed me and told me in no uncertain terms that it was my duty to serve and she would not take ‘no’ for an answer. It didn’t take much to convince me. I was ready. As it turned out, it was one of the best phone calls I ever received. I learned a lot from Dottie. She was one of a kind. She knew everyone and she knew something about everyone. She had the bite of a bulldog with the smile of a puppy. She impacted so many people in our industry. She was an awesome lady. Our industry is better because of her.”
Oatey Co. Regional Sales Manager Daryle Bullock noted Ramsey always had her husband, Mayford, a Tennessee Highway Patrol Officer, by her side.
“Dottie truly was an icon in our industry,” Bullock said. “She paved the way for success in my book. She was a heck of a woman who knew how to communicate with people in every area of this business from ASA folks to across the counter with a local plumber. Dottie could work a room like no other, and I learned from her in that respect. Mayford was usually at her side at most of the events, but I soon noticed that as soon as anyone struck up a conversation with him, she would politely ease off so that she could make her rounds and work the room. I can remember her always hanging outside with the guys talking shop. Staying close to her over the years at WIT and SWA meetings, it gave me so much respect for her.”
Bullock also remembered Ramsey’s presence at Modern Supply’s annual golf outing. “Dottie made sure all the top dogs would be there,” he said. “She would personally call vendors to make sure they were going to show up. This was a big deal to her. She made sure all was taken care of for this event. Dottie was always present around the clubhouse to meet and greet everyone that came by to get to the first tee box. Dottie was an amazing, caring lady and leader — a person I always had a special bond with. She was a true mentor and a class act.”
A huge advocate for the industry
Terry Shafer, SWA’s executive vice president, recalled a memorable moment when Ramsey appeared in a Miami hotel for an SWA event. This particular hotel was a backup option after the original site became unavailable. “Dottie and Mayford had just registered,” he said. “I said, ‘How are you doing?’ Her first comment was, ‘Why are we staying in this (place)?’ I reminded her we had to switch hotels and she said, ‘Oh, yes!’ You never had to question Dottie with her thoughts. You seldom had to wonder what she was thinking. She spoke freely. She was a pistol. If you knew Dottie, you counted yourself blessed. Her toughness and tenacity helped her find success in a male-dominated industry. Her support for the industry was unwavering. Dottie had a great impact on our industry. She had a great career in a predominantly male-oriented industry. She had to be pretty tough. If you were on her good side, you had nothing to worry about and she was always going to be there for her. She was a really genuine person. Or industry was dealt a very sad blow.”
Joel Becker, CEO of Torrington, Connecticut-based TORRCO and a former ASA president himself, first got to know Ramsey through ASA activities in the early to mid-2000s when both joined the ASA Executive Committee. “If asked to describe her in a word I would say spunky,” he said. “Dottie was always on her game. She always had an opinion and never backed away from throny issues. She had a firm backbone, yet always was sensitive to the feelings of others. She was hardworking, yet liked a good time. She had a deep southern drawl, yet was easy to listen to. She broke a number of glass ceilings, yet she fit in without fanfare. She was one of the guys, yet she was the consummate woman. She will be missed by those who had the privilege of knowing and working with her.”
Breck Cayce, CEO of Hopkinsville, Kentucky-based Cayce Mill Supply, recalled Ramsey took him under her wing when he attended his first SWA meeting. “Dottie was always there to help with a big smile,” he said. “She was a great friend to me and my family. She’s the reason I moved through the SWA chairs. God bless her. She was a respected leader in our industry and opened the doors for women leadership. And Mayford was always there helping.”
Jerry Miller, southeastern territory sales manager for Navien, worked with Ramsey and Modern for a short time, but came away impressed with her business savvy. “In the few years I had the opportunity to work with Dottie and Modern Supply there was no doubt she was a very direct and adroit businesswoman,” he said. “And in a very male-dominated plumbing supply business, she was an excellent example of the necessity of women in our industry. Her work with Navien and Modern Supply opened the doors for growth of our product in the Tennessee markets.”
Hajoca Corp. President and CEO Rick Fantham worked with Ramsey via ASA activities and the acquisition of Modern Supply. “I connected with Dottie over the last decade through ASA and through our acquisition of Modern Supply,” said Fantham, who during his time as ASA president presented Ramsey with the ASA Fred V. Keenan Lifetime Achievement Award at NETWORK2016 in New York City. “The headline for me was she won and excelled in all 360 degrees of life; personal, family, business and community — a role model for nice people finishing first! I will miss our interaction, but her legacy will endure.”
Legend Valve President and CEO David Hickman said the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based manufacturer quickly found out that Ramsey would take the time to help it “whenever we asked,” he said.
“Dottie was a huge advocate for the industry, helping companies and individuals to get to know one another and foster new relationships,” Hickman added. “Dottie led by example. Her warmth, kindness and sense of humor touched all of us. We are grateful to her for the guidance and friendship she extended to us."
A. O. Smith Vice President of Sales Dennis DeBlock called Ramsey the “First Lady of the plumbing industry.”
“She dedicated her career to the industry,” he said. “Dottie truly was an icon. I met her when I was just starting my career in regional sales. We traveled in the same circles and spent a lot of time together. She took me under her wing and really helped me learn the ropes and meet the right people. We’ve been close friends ever since. Don’t get me wrong, she was a tough businesswoman. She knew what she wanted, but always did what it took to make things right. Dottie also was a great friend to the American Water Heaters business, and she really stuck to her guns with this brand. She was very loyal. She just had this spirit, this moxie that’s hard to come by these days. I will miss her terribly.”
Coburn Supply President Don Maloney, also a former ASA president, added: “Dottie served the industry with dignity and strength of character while always smiling. She was comfortable in any environment related to our industry, an industry dominated by men. Her passion for the industry and the people in it will be missed.”