• Credit: Nejame & Sons

Edward Nejame Sr., a staple of the Northeast pool industry known for his hard work and warm personality, died in February. He was 82.

Edward Nejame Sr. spent nearly half his life in the grocery business before co-founding Nejame & Sons.

“He led by example and worked very, very hard,” said son Ed Nejame Jr. “He would always tell us as kids he worked hard and smart. He said, ‘I want you to work smart and hard.’ Accentuating the smart before the hard, whereas he worked the hard before the smart. That was one of his sayings throughout his career.”

Nejame began his retail career at the age of 7, when he started helping out in the grocery store his parents owned. A life-long resident of Danbury, Conn., he managed the store with his mother until 1971, when he went into the home improvement and swimming pool business.

The reason behind his career shift was illness. Unlike a modern butcher, Nejame would cut the meat for customers on a wood butcher block table, with sawdust on the floor to soak up the juices. Bacteria grew in the sawdust, and Nejame developed a lung infection.

“He was laid up for eight months at 38 years old,” Ed said. “And the doctors told him he could no longer perform in that career because of that.”

Nejame partnered with his brother-in-law and started Nejame Co. to do building projects. It wasn’t long until they were hired to put in a swimming pool. From there, the business grew into the vinyl liner pool building firm it is today, still located at the family’s original grocery location in Danbury.

Nejame’s sons, Tom, Ed and Greg, joined the firm as partners in the mid-1980s, but had worked for the family firm since their teens.

“He didn’t hold us down in what we wanted to do, so we were able to — as we became partners with him — strengthen the business,” Ed said. “… We all made decisions together, but we all worked on our strong points.”

Nejame’s lifelong experience with retail meant that he managed that aspect of the business, while his sons pursued the building and service divisions.

“He was the kind of person you just respected right away,” said Irene Forbes, district sales manager for BioGuard, who sold to Nejame. “…You’d learn from him. You’d go in to sell to him, and you’d end up learning from him.”

Forbes has known the Nejames for years, even before she started selling them their BioGuard products. Her family owns a pool business, Schech’s Pool & Spa Center in Brewster, N.Y., which has been in “friendly competition” with Nejame & Sons.

Nejame’s passion for the pool business was one of the main memories for Roger Curran, a retired SCP Distributors rep who sold to Nejame for 20 years.

“It was always a joy to go and sit with him,” Curran added.

In addition to his three sons, Nejame also is survived by his daughter, Jennifer.