WASHINGTON, DC - The National Automatic Merchandising Association will recognize the late Victor H. Lavay, cofounder of VENDING TIMES, for his half-century of service to the coin-operated industries. The presentation is scheduled for the annual membership meeting on the morning of Thursday, October 16, at the Washington Convention Center.
Lavay, who died on August 11 at age 78, grew up in Brooklyn, NY, one of eight children. Although the rest of the nation has discovered multiculturalism over the past quarter-century, Brooklyn knew all about it long before that. Vic's formative years brought him into contact with a wide range of people who honed his entrepreneurial spirit and laid the foundations for a deep understanding of and love for the United States that continued to deepen.
That spirit led him to work at a newsstand for $12 a week, and to begin his lifelong involvement in publishing with a small "clamshell" printing-press that he received from an older brother when he was 11 years old. During his senior year in high school, he worked for a printer in lower Manhattan.
He also was strongly attracted to the theater, participating in his high school dramatic presentations and obtaining small parts in a number of stage shows, including benefit performances for the "Bundles for Britain" drive organized to provide medical supplies and other necessities for the United Kingdom, which at that time was standing alone against the triumphant "Pact of Steel" dictatorships.
A WORLD AT WAR
Called into the Navy on his 18th birthday, in 1943, Vic was trained as a radioman and assigned to the Mediterranean with the Sixth Fleet. In that complex theater of operations, he found that his familiarity with Ladino (a medieval Iberian language still spoken in North Africa) and Italian, gained in his childhood, qualified him for intelligence work during the allied "Torch" invasion of 1942 and subsequent operations in southern Europe. This often involved making quiet contact with the locals in an area under Axis control, in preparation for amphibious assault , an activity requiring poise and savoir-faire, two qualities that he possessed in abundance.
Vic's humorous accounts of his experiences, and his insights into some lesser-known cultural undercurrents that influenced the belligerents' plans during the conflict, would have intrigued a military historian.
During the war, Vic met and married Frances (Fay), overcoming the difficulties necessarily presented by the mobilization of ten million Americans to fight a war across two oceans. Those difficulties did prevent their having any sort of wedding celebration. In 1998, they rectified that omission at a festive renewal of vows on their 54th anniversary.
Like millions of other military personnel, Vic attended college under the G.I. Bill. His studies in marketing, statistics and accounting led him to a career in advertising. His first agency job was as an accountant, but his imaginative suggestions soon won recognition and prompted a shift to the creative side.
At the same time, the entrepreneurial spirit awakened in his childhood found expression in a part-time printing business. And he continued to indulge his enthusiasm for public performance, and was involved in a number of radio and early television programs.
The Lavays also began to raise a family, which ultimately numbered five daughters: Linda, Ellen, Andrea, Dorie and Alicia.
In his advertising agency work, Vic got an overview of many industries that were gearing up to meet the booming demand of a fast-growing population enjoying newfound prosperity. Among these were soft drinks, candy and frozen food. That overview led him to switch careers to trade publishing, and he joined a pioneer in this field, Magazines for Industry.
Those consumer products all could be sold through vending machines, and many of them were. This awakened Vic's interest in vending, which began to attract serious attention in the late 1950s. The vending industry had one trade magazine, Vend, which had been launched in 1946.
There was talk of starting another, and in 1959, bottling industry veterans Ben Ginsberg and Mike Michael founded American Automatic Merchandiser. This intensified the talk, with which Vic became increasingly impatient; and nothing came of it, as he had foreseen.
At this point, Vic met Morris (Tiny) Weintraub, who then was serving as executive director of several New York City-area tobacco trade organizations. One represented street vending operators, and Weintraub had observed that their interests were not being addressed by the magazines then covering the field.
One thing led to another, and in 1962, Vic became part owner, with Tiny, of a corporation established to publish VENDING TIMES. The first issues appeared in that year, and the first VT NAMA Convention Issue was produced in 1963. Reflecting the industry of the day, most advertising support was from soft drink, candy and tobacco suppliers; but equipment manufacturers Rowe and Seeburg were represented prominently.
From the outset, the VT plan was to cover all segments of the vending business and the related fields that were breeding new vending operations, and also attracting existing vendors looking to diversify.
For that reason, the principals expanded the staff as quickly as the magazine's resources would allow. VT attended its first National Bulk Vendors Association convention in 1968, and its first Mobile Industrial Caterers Association show a year later. Observing that many vending operators also were active in music and games, they launched a sister publication, VT Music & Games, in 1968. Having made its point, that magazine was incorporated into VENDING TIMES in 1970. VT acquired Vend magazine, with its annual Census of the Industry and Buyers Guide, in 1974.
The vending, music and games business appealed strongly to Vic, because it attracted and rewarded hard-working risk-takers. Adding to the appeal was its technical side. As an old radioman, Vic was intrigued by electronics.
This interest had an immediate application to his chosen career as well. On the nuts-and-bolts side, that career spanned the transition from "hot" type and photoengravings to "offset" lithography, and the demand created by that new process for new typesetting and graphic arts technologies. On the business side, he had a keen eye for innovations likely to save money or time, and a healthy skepticism about technical schemes that would do neither. Often impatient with specialists, he possessed an admirable ability to grasp the essentials and the impact of a new concept. This kept VT in the forefront of the fast-changing publishing business.
In the early 1990s, Vic became trustee and majority shareholder of an employee stock ownership trust that purchased Tiny Weintraub's interest in VENDING TIMES, upon Weintraub's retirement. His youngest daughter, Alicia, had joined VT in 1988 as a junior editor, then switched to the sales side and held a variety of posts of increasing responsibility. She became president and publisher in December, 2002, and Vic moved up to chief executive officer.
While keeping his finger on the pulse of the magazine , two days before his death, he telephoned a detailed instruction for improving the Census of the Industry to the editor , Vic was able to devote more time to reading and travel in recent years. His interests were wide-ranging and diverse, extending from ships and the sea (he was a devoted yachtsman) through the ethnology of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean to Sephardic Judaism. He was a fascinating conversationalist, and made friends easily, enjoying a surprisingly varied acquaintance.
Music, especially the repertoire of the great age of mid-20th-century American popular song and musical comedy, also was a favorite study. Vic had a good voice and a retentive memory, and was known to burst into song upon the slightest pretext. He also was a talented impromptu standup comedian.
Like so many of the innovators who transformed the United States in the second half of the last century, Vic was schooled in overcoming adversity by spending his childhood in the Great Depression and his youth in the Second World War. To the graduates of that school of experience, the future was something to be created by imagination and energy. We all inherit the world they built.