Dedicated coffee industry legend passes away.
The Wilber Curtis Co. has announced that, on Friday, June 24, 2016, company chairman Robert “Bob” Curtis passed away. Curtis, who was CEO emeritus, devoted father, husband, grandfather, great grandfather and a true legend in the foodservice and coffee industries passed away peacefully surrounded by family at the Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Second in the fourth-generation lineage that built one of the world’s most respected and innovative coffee brewer manufacturers, Curtis left an indelible imprint on the company bearing his name, as he did the many people and passions that were part of his illustrious life.
Born 1930 in Hartford, Conn. to company founder Wilbur Curtis and former CEO Margaret Curtis, Bob’s success in coffee — while far from predestined, seemed all too certain given the influence of his parents, together with his natural drive, vision and work ethic.
At 18, he attended the prestigious New Mexico Military Institute — known as the West Point of the Southwest, moving back to study at L.A. City College, and later majored in advertising at the University of Southern California (USC). There, he joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity along with the school’s ROTC program, becoming a member of the honor squadron, and ultimately being appointed Air Force Squadron Commander.
After USC he followed several of his fraternity brothers into the Army, where he served with distinction.
Following in His Father’s Footsteps
The Wilbur Curtis Company was founded in 1941. It was only a few years later, in 1948, when Bob Curtis began working there on his summer vacations.
Wilbur Curtis was industrious, charismatic and considered a true visionary of the coffee business. So few were surprised when his son decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. Cutting his teeth in sales, Bob Curtis would rise through the ranks, propelling the company from its sturdy origins to the dominant position it holds today, often through sheer tenacity and force of will. As an example, in 1961, with transportation grinding to a halt amid a steelworker strike, Curtis doggedly continued delivering products to his clients using his own personal car.
He was named executive vice president after his mother Margaret Curtis took the reins of the company in the early 1960’s, and became president in 1989. Curtis continued to be instrumental in the company’s growth and helped propel Curtis’ value and position within the foodservice industry throughout the next few decades.
Bob Curtis’ devotion to the coffee business was rivaled only by his prodigious love of family along with his extra-vocational interests. Having learned the game from his father at the California Country Club, he became an avid golfer, and could be seen on the putting green with the likes of Dean Martin, Bing’s brother Bob Crosby and actor Dennis O’Keefe.
He was also known as an exceptional gin rummy player who would sit across the table from well-known players like Conrad Hilton.
Making Curtis a Family Affair
Despite or perhaps because of Bob Curtis’ singular focus on growing the company, there was always plenty of room for other family members to come and share in that passion.
Bob’s son, Kevin, joined the firm in 1985, and is now president and CEO; his other son, Michael, followed in 1993, and now holds the office of executive vice president; daughters Katie and Meg hold positions within the company, and the fourth generation family members, Michael’s sons, Brant and Patrick are instrumental in the pursuit of specialty coffee and product innovation.
Throughout his many soaring successes and rare failures, Bob Curtis never veered the company or his personal life from essential family values.
Complex Man, Simple Creed
Always be humble. Don’t boast about what you do. Appreciate the people you serve. Take care of your family. These were words Bob Curtis lived by. They were also part of a credo that helped him and the company transform having a mere ‘cup of joe’ into a truly memorable experience.
Survived by his wife, Sallee, her three children, Bob’s two sons, Kevin and Michael, four daughters, Suzi, Meg, June and Katie, 17 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, he will be deeply missed by family, friends and the coffee industry he helped build.
Mass will be held on Tuesday, July 19th 2016 at 11 a.m. at St. Maximilian Catholic Church, 5801 Kanan Road, Westlake Village, Calif. 91362. A Memorial Celebration will follow at 12:15 p.m. at the North Ranch Country Club, 4761 Valley Spring Drive, Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91362. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to World Coffee Research or Grounds For Health in memory of Robert Curtis.