Nature lured him, outdoors and indoors
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2012
9/14/12 at 1:09 PM
Sleeping outdoors under the stars, cooking your own meals over crackling flames - for Ralph Lafferty, life didn't get any better than that.
Once, taking along his two oldest sons, he covered 6,000 miles of the rugged northwest in just that fashion. Hiking, hunting, fishing and mountain-climbing as they went, they forged lasting bonds.
"I never felt closer to the boys than I did during those three weeks," Lafferty later told the Tulsa World.
Convinced of the family benefits of getting back to nature, the avid outdoorsman made it his mission in both life and business to encourage it.
A longtime president of Tulsa-based Zebco, a fishing tackle company, who branched out into a number of outdoors-related enterprises, Ralph Fredrick Lafferty died June 28 in Eugene, Ore. He was 93. Services were held there in July.
Going from a handful of employees producing 50 fishing reels a day to more than 500 workers making 20,000 reels - not to mention marketing in 33 countries on six continents - Zebco flourished under Lafferty. The family atmosphere he fostered might have had something to do with it.
"Ralph was the kind of man who made it a point to know his employees personally," said Dorothy Hurt of Spavinaw, his longtime secretary. "He would often walk through the plant, greeting everyone. He knew everyone by name, knew their families."
It was a common sight, she added, for Lafferty to sit down at an assembly table and help put reels together.
One time, Hurt said, he switched places with one of his workers for a day as part of a plant contest. Cheerfully donning blue jeans, boots and a leather apron, Lafferty worked in the tumbler room that day, coming out only occasionally to make a phone call.
A native of Portland, Ore., Lafferty graduated from the University of Oregon in 1940 and then fought in World War II for four years.
A captain in the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Italy, he was already an expert snow-skier, which was how troops of the 10th traversed the snowy terrain. Wounded in the Po Valley campaign, Lafferty was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.
After the war, he founded a New York securities brokerage, and it was during that time that he became involved with the fledgling Zebco. He moved to Tulsa in 1955 to become the company's sales manager and was named president four years later.
When Zebco became a division of Brunswick Corp. in 1961, Lafferty, who engineered the merger, remained president.
Later, he also became president of Brunswick's consumer products division, which, in addition to Zebco fishing tackle, included MacGregor sporting goods and Red Head hunting and camping equipment.
Eventually leaving to become president of what is now Abu Garcia Corp., he retired in 1983.
During the 25 years he lived in Tulsa, Lafferty was civically active, serving on the boards of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, St. John Medical Center, Tulsa YMCA, the Tulsa Boy Scouts and the Tulsa Philharmonic. He was a member of Southern Hills Country Club and the Tulsa Polo & Hunt Club.
After leaving Tulsa, Lafferty became a leader in the Rotary Club, taking a team to Argentina to help equip a hospital and also helping to start the first Rotary Club in Russia.
Hurt said dozens of Lafferty's former Tulsa-area employees still get together for lunch every three months. They like to share memories, especially of Lafferty and the fun, family atmosphere they enjoyed at Zebco, she said.
Lafferty is survived by his wife, Traudl Heinrich Lafferty; three daughters, Lupe Gilmartin, Barbara Todd and Georgette Toby Lafferty; four sons, Rick Lafferty, John Lafferty, Robert Lafferty and Gregory Lafferty; 10 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Ralph Lafferty: He knew his workers by name, his former secretary said