Paulette Pitrak -- long the powerhouse behind NESPA’s ambitious education program and a tireless interpreter of codes and liaison between the industry and government officials -- passed away Nov. 18 from complications of leukemia. She was two weeks shy of turning 65.
Though Pitrak had been ill, her passing came unexpectedly after complications developed, leaving the tight-knit Northeast Spa and Pool Association in mourning.
“Loosing Paulette Pitrak never seemed like an option,” wrote NESPA President Irene Insignares in the association’s newsletter. “We will be lost without her for a while. We will need to join forces to maintain the culture she built. In so many ways, she was the glue holding us together.
“We will be strong in her spirit and, by all means, she would not have wanted us to grieve but take that energy and invest it in ourselves.”
Pitrak entered the industry in 1988, when she joined the National Spa & Pool Institute (predecessor for the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals), as its manager of education programs. A year later, she was promoted to director of education.
In 1992, she heeded the call to become NESPA’s first education director. In 1998, she became second in command, as deputy executive director.
Pitrak played an integral role in developing one of the most robust education programs in the industry. She arranged and oversaw the seminars held at NESPA's yearly convention and conference, where she could always be found hustling from class to class putting out fires, or working Mission Control in the speaker-ready room making sure that her presenters had everything they needed. The educational offerings expanded from a mostly technical selection to include general business topics and ever-more-advanced subject matter. From 2003 to the present, the conference expanded from 30 to 75 courses, said NESPA Executive Director Lawrence Caniglia. Pitrak also coordinated season-long programs comprised of sessions held at the association’s headquarters.
At one point, NESPA felt it important to offer hands-on training opportunities and sought a facility that could accommodate it. Pitrak played point person and oversaw the work of vendors, contractors and volunteers as they built a functioning concrete pool at their former Morganville, N.J. headquarters, then an even more elaborate vinyl-liner version in the current digs in Hamilton, N.J.
As Pitrak's title grew, so did her role and expertise. She became known as an expert on all things code-related, especially in NESPA’s four states of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But it wasn’t only professionals within the industry who noticed: Code officials in the four states were known to call Pitrak to get her opinions on potential code requirements, interpretations of existing codes and explanations about the technologies and practices specific to the pool and spa trade.
In addition, she would play liaison between pool/spa contractors and code officials when glitches developed. “Anybody in our area would be calling her saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a question about a code or a lawsuit … and she would have the answer,” said Trevor Sherwood, owner of Pool Operation Management in Brick, N.J. and a CPO course instructor who worked frequently with Pitrak.
After the 2007 passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, Pitrak was instrumental in securing an important project for NESPA – gaining a grant from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and training code officials on the ins and outs of pool and spa construction. “In a one-year period, she educated more than 450 code officials throughout our four-state region,” Caniglia said. “It helped get the name NESPA out to our regional code officials, who recognized her as an expert in this area.”
In 2013, Pitrak was named an APSP Fellow for her work in education.
In addition to her accomplishments, professionals will remember her for her depth and breadth of knowledge and ability to analyze a situation, Caniglia said.
“She was one of the best thinkers I’ve ever known -- one of the most analytical people,” Caniglia said.
She worked hard for that expertise, said Bob Baron, who collaborated with Pitrak on educational projects since her time at NSPI. “If she didn’t know something, she’d come out into the field with us and she’d learn it,” said the owner of Baron Pool Service in Ramsey, N.J. “It didn’t matter if we were digging trenches or shooting concrete or anything. If she didn’t understand it, she found out about it, and so she was as knowledgeable as she could be.”
Perhaps more important, her friends said, she helped all who needed it and served as a guide and mentor to many. “If I had a pool question, she was the first person I’d go to,” Sherwood said. “Anything, even just businesswise… I [would contact her] just to bounce ideas off her. She was one of the smartest people I know in the industry.”
In 2004, when Caniglia came on board as executive director to replace the retiring Joel Caesar, Pitrak proved invaluable at helping him get started, he said. “I cannot overstate how important she has been,” he said. “It wasn’t just that she was so helpful to me. Paulette was helpful to anyone who needed her help. She could not do enough for you to help you, whatever your situation happened to be. I think that will be her legacy.”
Paulette Pitrak was born Nov. 29, 1951 in Chicago. It seems she was destined to be involved with water, having competed as a swimmer and diver, among several sports she took part in, while earning her bachelors degree in psychology and physical education at Illinois State University. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Recreation at Indiana State University.
As a seasoned professional, she held offices with the local trade organization for association executives.
In her off-time, Pitrak devoted time to her passions of nature and animals, particularly Schnauzers, of which she had many through the years. She frequently volunteered for the local Friends of Morrisville Dog Park. She also was a licensed Zamboni driver, which gave her coworkers some chuckles, but gave her pride, Caniglia said.
A memorial service for Pitrak will be held Dec. 6, 11:00-1:30, at Rat’s Restaurant located on The Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township, N.J. Donations in honor of her memory may be made to the Friends of Morrisville Dog Park in Morrisville, Pa. or the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Fla.