A friend of mine once said, “One of the hardest things to be in life is a mensch.” On Sept. 11, during the worst terrorist attack in history, the industry lost one of its main mensches, Bob Speisman, Lazare Kaplan’s longtime executive vice president. He was on board American Airlines Flight 77 that terrorists crashed into the Pentagon. He was 48 years old. The New York Times described Bob as an “executive” in his obituary, but he wasn’t really the executive type. Down-to-earth, warm, and endlessly jovial, he enjoyed flouting convention. He loudly proclaimed his Democratic politics in this mostly Republican industry; during the controversy over the Pegasus process, he proudly defended his company, Lazare Kaplan, before a rather large and not-exactly-friendly audience at the GIA Symposium in San Diego; and he was one of the few people—if not the only person—in the diamond industry to wear long hair, never mind a ponytail. He had a “take me as I am” philosophy—which wasn’t a difficult assignment, because Bob was impossible to dislike.
A peace activist in the 1960s, Speisman came to the diamond business after years in the record industry. The son-in-law of Lazare Kaplan chairman Maurice Tempelsman, he helped build the company’s “Lazare” brand and deserves a lot of the credit for the industry’s embrace of the “Ideal cut” and branding. An active member of the American Gem Society, he was chairman of the group’s board of trustees, helped found the Society’s lab, and was en route to an AGS meeting in Vancouver when he died.
Speisman was devoted to and very proud of his family, about whom he frequently spoke during industry events. He was also an avid sports fan and coached soccer and football in his hometown of Irvington, N.Y. He organized a Sunday morning basketball game that was described by local news as “a group of guys who should know better showing up in shorts and T-shirts at 7 a.m. at the high school gym.” According to Underwood Jewelers’ Clayton Bromberg, “The only time I ever saw Bob get mad was when he watched the Knicks lose a basketball game—and that was only for a minute.”
Speisman is survived by his wife, Rena, and three children, ages 18, 16, and 11, as well as his parents, Jack and Joyce Speisman. Lazare Kaplan has set up a fund in his name—called “Bobby’s Buddies”—which melds his two passions: children and sports. Contributions may be sent to: Bobby’s Buddies, c/o Lazare Kaplan, 529 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10017.
Industry colleagues share memories of Bob Speisman:
“As I am not from up North, I think it is only fair to give you a glimpse of Bob when he traveled to the South to see people like me. Bob was always the consummate salesman in our store but was at his best outside of the store at my house or at the country club. Most people would say, including Bob, that I was probably the last person you would place beside Bob as a friend: him from New York with his ponytail and me beside him with a seersucker suit and a Sons of Confederate Veterans pin in my lapel. However, after getting a chance to talk to Bob it was easy to understand that he was not just my friend but almost everybody’s he came in contact with. He was always open with me and one time branded me as an ‘intellectual redneck,’ which we always laughed about. We also both never forgot Fried Chicken Night at the Florida Yacht Club: Bob got his first taste of collard greens and black-eyed peas, and he actually ate almost everything on his plate. He never said whether he liked them or not, but he had a good time telling the story back to me and some of our other friends.”—Clayton Bromberg, Underwood Jewelers, Jacksonville, Fla.
“He was extremely well-respected, but he was also down-to-earth and brutally honest. He would never blow smoke at you. He loved his business and was extremely passionate about it. He was a forward thinker. It was with his help that AGS was able to make the quantum leaps it’s made over the years. He’ll really be missed.”—Mark Moeller, R.F. Moeller Jewelers, Minneapolis, Minn.
“Bob had true integrity. He was a stand-up guy. Whenever he told you he would do something, he did it. But he also had the kind of personality that lit up the room with that ever-present smile of his.”—Robert Bridel, executive director, American Gem Society, Las Vegas
“It’s a great loss for us personally and for our industry. He was bright and funny and had an unbounded energy. He always looked at the upside of things. He always took a stand, and yet I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like him. That’s a real talent. You can’t say that about too many people.”—AGS president Ellen Lacy, Lacy and Co., Fort Worth, Texas
“I didn’t do business with Bob, but we were good friends anyway because of our mutual interest in [blues musician] Lonnie Mack. Bob was, perhaps, even a bigger fan of Lonnie’s music than I am! In this age of vendors being a little ‘uncomfortable’ around their ‘non-customers,’ Bob was very special and unique—he was nice and gracious to everyone. We always shared a Lonnie Mack story at every trade show. He was extraordinary and will be missed very much.”—Gary Gordon, Samuel Gordon Jewelers, Oklahoma City, Okla.
“He did everything with an incredible passion and love. You couldn’t find a man who loved his family more. He consumed literature—both fiction and nonfiction—like most people drink water. I was always amazed at how he could get through a book like Truman in a week.”—Jeffrey Link, A. Link, New York City
“I will remember his smile, the twinkle in his eye, and his laugh.
“I will remember his quick wit, enthusiasm, and determination.
“I will remember his electric personality.
“I will remember how every conversation ended talking about his family, whom he cherished more than anything.
“I will remember how hard he worked and how hard he played.
“I will remember his joking with me and making fun of me, especially because I did not know who James Brown was.
“I will remember how he loved to call me ‘Red’ even though I hated it.
“I will remember and miss all of this and more.
“What I will especially remember and miss the most: his banging on the wall we shared in the office for the past 17 years and yelling, ‘Hey, Red! Get in here!’ “—Marcee Feinberg, marketing director, Lazare Kaplan, New York City