LAS VEGAS — Tom Zaucha does not plan to retire from his post as president and chief executive officer of the National Grocers Association until June 30, but the last night of NGA's annual convention here on Thursday was the last time the membership would have the opportunity to bid him a fond farewell en masse.
Had Mike Jackson not changed his mind about succeeding Zaucha, the convention could have been a different kind of affair — bidding goodbye to the old guard and welcoming the new regime at the same time.
But it seemed more appropriate to give Zaucha his due after 28 years by making him the focus of the convention and the evening that concluded it.
After the dinner that ended the convention, Dean Janeway, president and chief operating officer of Wakefern, took the stage to praise Zaucha, calling him "the voice of reason and the impetus we needed to keep an association of independent grocers on the straight and narrow" and citing "his passion for his work, his perseverence and his persistence that have made NGA stronger than ever."
That was followed by a video on Zaucha's life and life's work, after which Jay Campbell, chairman and CEO of Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La., quoted from a poem by Kahlil Gibran about dedication.
Finally Zaucha took the stage, flanked by his wife Bernadette and his daughter Rachel, each holding a bouquet of roses, and humbly thanked "all of you here because this is still a people business, even with all the technology, and I respect you for your risk-taking and your entrepreneurship, and I'm so honored that you let me me serve you."
Even Paul Anka — the evening's entertainment — got into the act, stepping off the stage after singing "My Way" to sing special lyrics to Zaucha — lyrics in which Anka suggested that Zaucha had been born in Pennsylvania "so maybe now they'll ordain ya," explaining it was tough to find a rhyme for Pennsylvania. But most of the words were heartfelt and touching, and it was a nice sendoff for a nice man.