The industry was saddened by the passing of longtime industry leader John Romano July 13, less than two weeks after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He was 73.
“The outpouring of respect that I got from friends, colleagues ... people I’ve never met before in the industry was tremendous,” said his son, Rob Romano, general manager of David Cooke Plaster Co. in South Windsor, Conn.
He founded and owned All American Custom Pools and Spas in Norwalk. Conn., the town where he grew up. With NESPA, he was one of the professionals whom others automatically associated with the group.
“John is bigger than life,” says Bob Blanda, a friend and a former head of the PHTA Builders Council. “He’s that guy who has the stories, the persona, the personality ... He was certainly a person who lived life the way he wanted — he was a ‘My Way’ type of guy for sure.”
Blanda says that translated to Romano’s ability and dedication to giving back. “He was that guy who was on every committee, every council, chaired all the levels and the associations, from the chapter to the region to the national. He was just a fixture for 25-plus years.
“John did everything big.”
John C. Romano was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on July 31, 1948, but moved to Norwalk as a small child.
Before he joined the pool/spa industry, Romano took various jobs, such as working on a U.S. military base in Iceland, where he lived with his family for a short time, and as a handyman. When he and his family returned from Iceland, he sold cars for a while, and was recognized as one of the best salespeople at the dealership. For a while, he had a side hustle selling swimming pools.
Pool sales were good to Romano, so he opened his own company, All American Pools & Spas, in Norwalk, working out of his garage for a time.
His company steadily grew, as did his participation in organizations such as the Northeast Spa and Pool Association. He served on its board from 1987 to 2018, taking on just about every title, and serving as president in 1995. At his passing, he was still on the board of his local chapter, the Connecticut Spa and Pool Association.
He also took various posts with the national pool/spa trade association through its various iterations, most recently the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. There, he was most known for his service on the Builders Council, where he helped develop the Certified Pool Builder program and the accompanying training manual. In addition to the original draft, Romano also participated in four revisions of the manual, which took place every three years, Blanda says. The national organization recognized him as its second Pool Builder of the Year in 2008.
He served on the national association’s Board of Directors for several terms, taking the title of chairman in 1998. In that capacity, he helped lead the group as it rebuilt from a bankruptcy forced by a lawsuit.
In the boards, committees and councils on which he served, Romano played a distinct, if not always popular, role — the person willing to acknowledge the elephant in the room, Blanda says.
“He was not afraid to bring out something that was controversial,” he says. “He was not afraid to be the person to say, ‘Hey, I don’t necessarily agree with this,’ even though everybody else is saying they do. ... He had an ability to sort of cut through the wasting of time, and to read a situation and analyze it from a different view than most people sitting in the room.”
One of his proudest moments, said the younger Romano, came when he testified in front of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to speak out against mandating safety vacuum relief systems on pools as part of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Like others in the industry, he argued that SVRSs were not the only option for preventing suction entrapment.
He similarly helped the local trade associations sway Connecticut officials away from banning pool filling during a serious drought.
“I think he enjoyed the roles he played in helping,” Rob Romano says. “There’s a little bit of him that got giddy that he was one of the guys who drove the industry and one of its bigger voices ... He had a lot of fun doing that.”
As a builder of high-end pools, Romano operated on the vanguard, Blanda says. “He was a pioneer,” Blanda says. “He was in Manhattan building pools on roftops before rooftop pools were known.”
In 2019, he opened the Milford Sports Bar. That following January he sold All American Pools and mostly left the industry, save for some involvement with CONSPA, which continued until his passing.
In addition to his pool/spa involvement, Romano took part in several local organizations, such as the Norwalk Harbor Commission and the Republican Town Committee. He served as a constable and justice of the peace.
“He probably married a couple hundred people in town,” said Rob Romano. “He really did a lot for others.”