Every industry has its unforgettable characters, and we’re no exception. One who comes readily to mind is the late J.V. “Big Mac” McNeme. A driving force in the pool industry for more than 40 years, he was a founding board member of the National Swimming Pool Institute (now APSP) in 1956.
Most photos show McNeme sporting a cowboy hat, a cigar and often a bolo tie. His circle of friends included famous western actors such as John Wayne, Slim Pickens and James “The Virginian” Drury. But then, Big Mac was a Texan.
How did he land in the pool industry? After serving in the military during World War II, he went to work in pool construction. From there, he went on to establish a wholesale pool supply and equipment distributorship, which later merged with another to form Poolquip-McNeme. Based in Houston, there also were locations in St. Louis, New Orleans and Lexena, Kan. Full-page ads featuring Pickens and Drury touting pool equipment often popped up in Pool & Spa News in the ‘80s.
Big Mac’s NSPI involvement included chairing the 1966 NSPI national show when it was in Houston (natch). He became NSPI president in 1984, appearing at events with cowboy hat and stogie firmly in place. Of course, he could switch to a tux if need be, such as for the National Fitness Foundation Award Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York in '84. Former President Gerald Ford was being honored for his support of NFF. McNeme praised Ford for backing swimming as a prime fitness activity and noted that NSPI members had built and donated the outdoor pool at the White House, which Ford had enjoyed.
Two years later, McNeme was the guest of honor himself at a celebrity-studded roast emceed by Johnny Grant, honorary mayor of Hollywood, Calif. More than 400 flocked to the Hyatt Houston, and the benefit raised more than $23,400 for the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
When Big Mac died in 1996 at age 74, the industry mourned the loss of a true original. “He was one of the most colorful figures in our industry, larger than life and a representative of the industry’s individualistic style of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s,” PSN publisher Jules Field said. “We will miss him.” Indeed.