In my 22 years of covering the plumbing industry, I never had been asked to overnight a copy of a magazine to someone so he could read a story about his company before he died. Yet, late one afternoon last month, I received such a request from the office ofGeorge Brazil, whose company we featured on the cover of PM’s May issue.

UPS and FedEx can be fast. Unfortunately, neither could deliver the issue to George before he died the next morning in Phoenix.

I’ll confess that many people in our industry knew George much better than I did. Adding it all up, the amount of time I spent with him amounted to a few hours. Much of it occurred in March when I interviewed George for the May story followed by lunch with him and his Operations ManagerDaryl Bingham. I’d also sit with him at breakfast occasionally at a Nexstar or, later, Quality Service Contractors meeting.

I didn’t warm up to George initially because of his gruff exterior, or that was my perception. Fellow Phoenix contractorMark Giebelhaustold me the day after George died that people either loved him or hated him, and he described himself as a fan and a friend.

“He was a very positive influence on our industry and many contractors owe their success to him,” he said.

Brooklyn plumbing contractorAnthony Vigilantealso had sat with George at a meal during a Nexstar meeting. He was having business problems at the time and asked George for advice.

“He was quite blunt in his reply,” Anthony recalls. “That was his style; he didn’t have time to beat around the bush.”

But he saw another side of George as well: “He was very intelligent. He was an innovator. He would think way out of the box. He would talk to you for  hours to help you out. George was a pioneer in evolving this industry, making it respectable and profitable.”

Probably no one knew George better thanFrank Blau, with whom he co-founded the best practices group Contractors 2000, which later became Nexstar.

“People accused George and me of having the same personality,” he told me. “We were both tough SOBs on the outside and very generous on the inside.”

While I did not know George as well as others did, I did gain some insight during our time together in Phoenix. Far from being gruff, he was in good spirits, despite his declining health. I discovered he was aware of the impression he made on people.

My main purpose was to interview him about the thermal airship he had purchased to take his company’s marketing message to the Arizona sky. He expressed frustration with the red tape and expense he had to endure to get his airship off the ground.

“When I get started on a project, or I make up my mind to do something, there’s hell to pay if people don’t go along with it,” he told me. “But somebody could have said, ‘George, do you really want to do this?’ Then again, I would have said, ‘Of course, I want to do this.’”

He described himself as a problem solver, which led him to create what became known as the George Brazil truck to make his service techs more efficient. More recently, it got him to start thinking about what could get people’s attention on top of the millions he already was paying for advertising. He realized no one in the plumbing industry was using an airship as a marketing vehicle.

Both he and Frank Blau told me George was all about his business. He didn’t golf or enjoy other hobbies. He thought of himself as “the quintessential entrepreneur because I’m never satisfied.”

He saw an opportunity to take the George Brazil Home Services brand and apply it to other trades such as tile work, roofing and carpet cleaning. He envisioned a training academy for home services similar to McDonald’s Hamburger U.

 “My dream is to take some trades that are related, and it’s fascinating to think what you could do with the branding we have,” he told me. “All these services are operating out of a hole in the wall. They have no advertising. They have no branding. The plan would be to take George Brazil Home Services and anything that happens in your home, one call does it all.

“The whole point is we can raise the bar a helluva lot higher than it is now. I’ve been at this for 50-some years. It’s been raised a little bit.”

George Brazil raised the bar of our industry more than a little bit, and I suspect he realized that. It falls to the rest of us to take it up several more notches.