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Reflecting on a “Pillar” of SPE

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Reflecting on a “Pillar” of SPE

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Reflecting on a “Pillar” of SPE

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“In 1996, Gail single-handedly brought to life The SPE Foundation as its first and only managing director, while still performing her field services work with SPE itself.”

In every group of people there is a person who is the pillar, the person who makes it all happen and keeps the ship on course, the “go-to” for those on the staff and those on the outside. Gail Bristol has been that person at the Society of Plastics Engineers for a very long time, probably longer than she cares to remember. She’s worked for SPE for 33 years, and if someone, inside or out, asked, “Who do I talk to about that?” (whatever “that” is), the answer was generally “Gail.” She may not have had the answer, but she saw that the answer got to whoever needed it, and if there was something that needed to be done for that person, she saw that it got done.

There is probably no one working for the Society today who worked harder and had a greater positive effect on the Society and its members than Gail, and, as of August 31, she is finally going to enjoy a well-earned retirement.

Gail graduated from Alfred State College in Alfred, New York, and began working in sales and advertising, for Kistler Instrument Corp., outside of Buffalo, NY. She took time off from the working world to get married and have a family (two daughters, Kelly and Karen, of whom she is very proud), and, once the girls were in school, she did volunteer work for the Brookfield, Connecticut, school system. 

She later became assistant town clerk for Brookfield, and, as anyone who has dealt with her and her super skill with the written word has found out, she worked as a professional proofreader for a book publishing firm. Gail and her prodigious English skills were, and are, instrumental in SPE’s rewriting, adoption, and maintenance of its charter documents, our Bylaws and Policies.

Gail spent nearly 20 years of her career at SPE working in Field Services, providing direct support to our field affiliates, primarily Divisions and Sections. It was Gail who traveled from Connecticut to El Paso, or Seattle, or Houston, or Florida, or wherever she was needed, to meet with our members and the local governance people. She’d be there to help them make their organizations more effective and efficient, to improve their liaison with headquarters, and sometimes, just sometimes, even drive the refreshment cart at their golf tournaments.

Those travels have taken her to 47 of the 50 states, plus Canada, Mexico, and most of the western European countries. In addition to her own involvement in the field, over the years Gail trained multiple other staff members on how SPE supports our members, both in the field and at headquarters, and then sent those staff members out to provide that support.

Gail has always been a very giving person, and very involved in her community. Gail was deeply involved in Girl Scouting, first as a scout, then as a Girl Scout adult leader, then as a member of her council’s board of directors—sharing, shaping, and nurturing in girls and young women the very admirable qualities of the Girl Scout philosophy. Her later community involvement extended to the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life, and First Night Danbury. 

In 1996, Gail single-handedly brought to life The SPE Foundation as its first and only managing director, while still performing her field services work with SPE itself. The Foundation is set up to provide scholarship support to college students and graduate students planning to enter the plastics industry. The Foundation, now with a financial base
over $2 million, also provides grants to worthy institutional projects that help students and the public grow in their knowledge of our industry. 

In 2014, in recognition of Gail’s critical role in The SPE Foundation and her impending retirement, the Foundation Board established the “Gail R. Bristol Scholarship.” The $3,000 scholarship is intended for an undergraduate or graduate student, preferably female, who is planning to enter the plastics industry.

In 2008, Gail was honored by SPE’s then-president Dr. Vicki Flaris with the “President’s Cup” at ANTEC in Milwaukee. The President’s Cup is bestowed by the president of the Society on a person who, in the president’s opinion, has given significant service and support to SPE and our members. The recipient is unaware that the award is to be given to them, and in Gail’s case, that was particularly difficult, since she was always the staff person who made arrangements to buy the cup, get it engraved, and see that it got to the banquet for presentation by the president. The presentation by Dr. Flaris went off without a hitch and was made even more special when both of Gail’s daughters and her grandchildren surprised her by having flown in from New York for the ceremony.

The most prestigious of all membership grades in SPE is that of “Distinguished Member.” All of the Society’s past presidents are Distinguished Members, and for a non-past president member to rise to the level of Distinguished Member requires a vote of at least two-thirds of all the living past presidents. Prior to ANTEC 2014 there were only four such elected members, all men. At the SPE Celebrates Banquet at ANTEC this year, Gail and the public were informed that she had been honored by the past presidents as the Society’s fifth, and first female, elected Distinguished Member.

One question often asked at ANTEC this year was, “What is SPE going to do when Gail’s gone?” Wim De Vos, SPE’s chief staff executive, has a plan in place to get her functions covered, but it will be very difficult to replace someone who has been such a strong and capable leader, influence, teacher, friend, mentor, guide, and source of “tribal knowledge” for all of us who have enjoyed the privilege of working with her for more than 30 years. 

Gail, we wish you only the very best in your well-deserved retirement. Remember, the latch-string is always out for you here at SPE and we, both staff and members, sincerely hope you’ll come back to see us as your busy retirement schedule allows. 


By Lance M. Neward

1993-1994 SPE President