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Farewell to packaging friends we lost in 2018

Farewell to packaging friends we lost in 2018
Photo credit: svetazi -

In 2016, a packaging buddy of mine, Dan Balan, was having some serious medical issues. He and I met for lunch to finish preparations for a two-day conference on food and beverage packaging innovations we were putting on in a couple weeks. When I saw how sickly he looked, I feared the workload of what still had to be done was putting too much of a strain on him in his weakened condition. As he left the restaurant, he admonished, “Don’t you worry about me. I’m going to beat this thing.”

About a week later, Dan was dead, and those were his last words to me. More than two years later, it’s still nearly impossible for me to talk about him without my throat closing up.

Dan and I had only met about two years earlier yet we immediately recognized a kindred spirit. Oh, his intellect! His humor! He wrote several articles for Packaging Digest and one of them, “‘Creative Destruction’ is transforming packaging,” took my breath away with its beauty and insight. In some of our collaborative efforts, he forced me out of my comfort zone (which I hated! and loved!), pushing me to excel as he trusted I could and would.

Dan Balan challenged me, in a good way. I wonder if I would be better than I am now if he were still alive.

After Dan died, I became more aware that the packaging community suffers devasting losses like this each year. And the older I get, it seems the more I knew the people who died.

If you’ll indulge my personal remembrances, here are four packaging colleagues who passed away in 2018 that I’d like to pay tribute to:

John Johnston

Me and John at Pack Expo 2016, when he was just 85.

John Johnston, owner of American Design & Packaging and former president of Doboy Packaging Machinery (now part of Bosch Packaging Machinery), worked in packaging for 58 years. 58 years! An unofficial mentor, John taught me quite a lot about the role of packaging machinery companies in the industry’s eco system—and, by that, I mean economics. He really knew his stuff and I will sorely miss our conversations and hugs. Active in PMMI, John served as the organization’s chairman in 1983 and was inducted into the Packaging Hall of Fame in 2000.

Kevin Gingrich

This is exactly how I remember Kevin, with his mega-watt smile.

As a packaging trade show approached, I’d inevitably hear from Kevin Gingrich, who was communications and e-business manager for Bosch Rexroth, asking for me to swing by the booth and chat. With a ready smile, he’d welcome me and proceed to wow me not only with whatever new products the company was exhibiting but with his knowledge of the overarching automation trends driving those developments. Remembering his smile makes me smile. He died unexpectedly in June at the young age of 57.

Curt Larsen

Curt was instrumental in reinvigorating IoPP’s Medical Device Packaging Technical Committee.

For years, Curt Larsen was my go-to guy for any questions that were related to medical packaging. I met him probably a couple decades ago while judging an Institute of Packaging Professionals AmeriStar competition and immediately learned his value as we explored the entries in the medical category. Curt was co-founder of packaging consultancy Spartan Design Group and meant a lot to my colleague Daphne Allen.

Bill Carteaux

Bill Carteaux, president/CEO, Plastics, fought leukemia for nearly three years. I didn’t know Bill well, unfortunately. We’d met a couple times over the decades but never had any substantial conversations or shared experiences. I admired him, though, and his professionalism and the job he did with the association to champion the many benefits of plastic packaging.

Have you lost a special packaging partner this year? I invite you to comment below to share their name and what they meant to you.

We are so fortunate to work in an industry with so many good people. Until we meet again…


In addition to leading suppliers showing the latest solutions in labeling, automation, food packaging, package design and more—WestPack 2019 (Feb. 5-7; Anaheim, CA) gives you access to the industry's leading educational offerings with the 3D Printing and Smart Manufacturing Innovations Summits, the MD&M Medtech Conference and free industry education at the Expo. Register to attend today!

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