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In Memoriam: Gerry Tarzia '82

In Memory of Gerard E. (Gerry) Tarzia ‘82

Gerard E. (Gerry) Tarzia, 45, was the kind of business manager who was at ease with almost anyone, almost anywhere in the world. He successfully grew a complicated $550 million business that makes building block materials for everyday consumer products, was a part of Rohm and Haas Company’s leadership group, served on the Board of Trustees of Lehigh University – and knew the first names and stories about most of the children of the people with whom he worked.

Yet Gerry also had a secret that he kept from nearly all of his co-workers – he battled cancer – several times – during his career, often without missing a day of work. Gerry ultimately lost that 18-year battle with cancer on Tuesday, September 13, 2005.

In 1987, at the age of 27, Gerry was diagnosed with a deadly form of melanoma cancer after testing was done on a mole removed from his shoulder. He battled that cancer, refusing to accept the expected prognosis, and triumphed.

Gerry’s Rohm and Haas career flourished. He took on positions of increasing importance. Those above him commented often about his dedication, persistence and attention to detail. Yet as he rose in the organization, he kept the common touch – sometimes forsaking the opportunity to host a business dinner at a four-star restaurant for a shirtsleeves session with important customers and employees alike at a favorite Mexican restaurant not far from the company’s plant.

Ten years later, with a devoted wife, two young children, and a third on the way, Gerry discovered the melanoma had returned to some lymph nodes. He responded in a familiar manner used in both his family life and career track which leveraged the same thoughtfulness and excellent time management skills for which he was known.

Gerry convinced the doctors to schedule his surgery and onset of treatments so he would not miss his daughter’s birth. Shortly, after his daughter, Claire, was born, he began an intense, one-year regimen of interferon therapy. Throughout treatment, Gerry’s doctors were astounded by his resilience. While many people undergoing the same type of therapy missed months of work, Gerry did not miss a single day at Rohm and Haas.

While no one would argue Gerry’s steadfast loyalty, commitment, and dedication to his job, he made it clear through his actions that his family came first. He often rearranged his work schedule to stay actively involved in his children’s lives by attending ball games, performances and school events. Once he even rearranged an important business trip to Asia in order to attend a father-daughter dance. His Philadelphia office had all the potential for executive trappings – a panoramic view of the Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Yet Gerry’s office was remarkably different from that of most executives – it was a shrine to the one thing that was more important to him than anything else – walls, desks, window sills and shelves adorned with images of and from his family – everything from crayoned drawings to formal school pictures and snapshots of family vacations.

“Yes, he ALWAYS had his priorities right!” says Robin Tarzia, wife of Gerry, as she fondly recalls Gerry’s humorous side. “On a more serious note even with all his degrees, awards and successes I have never been more proud of him than in the manner in which he has taken on the greatest challenge in his life,” she wrote to coworkers shortly before Gerry passed away. “I have never been more proud to call myself Gerry Tarzia’s wife.”

Gerry joined Rohm and Haas in 1986. He held numerous marketing and business assignments in the company, and served in regional business management positions both in Germany and Spain in the 1990s. The Board of Directors elected him a Vice President of the company in 1998. Gerry was named to his most recent position as Business Director of the Monomers Business Unit in 2002.

“Gerry demanded excellence of himself while inspiring those who worked with him to strive for greatness,” says Raj L. Gupta, Rohm and Haas Chairman, President and CEO. “He has left countless friends and colleagues who will treasure the integrity and values he routinely displayed.”

In addition to his commitment to Rohm and Haas Company, Gerry was also dedicated to his alma mater, Lehigh University. He recently served as President of the Lehigh University Alumni Association Board of Directors and was a current member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees. He was also a member of the Career Advisors Network, the Lehigh Leadership Council, an Annual Fund Volunteer, and a member of the College of Engineering Advisory Board.

Gerry received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University in 1982 and an MBA from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in 1986. He was a recipient of the Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Award in 1992 for valuable and devoted service to Lehigh as a young alumnus.

He resided in Ambler, P.A. with his wife, Robin, and their children: Kelsey, 13, Luke, 9, and Claire, 7. Gerry is also survived by his parents, Aldo and Virginia Tarzia of East Brunswick, N.J., and his sister, Maryrose Toto, of Freehold, N.J.

Robin’s one request to alumni is for "Gerry stories". Send a letter or an e-mail to the Lehigh University Alumni Association at alumni@lehigh.edu, with your personal thoughts, memories, or impressions of when you met Gerry, how you knew him, and/or what kind of a person he was. Gerry told Robin he wants these stories so his children can know him as they get older and see what others thought of him.

Gerry also asked that we (Lehigh) remember the Tarzia family, Robin and the three children, Kelsey, 13, Luke, 9, and Claire, 7 so they can stay involved and continue to be a part of the Lehigh Family that Gerry loved so much.

In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested that donations be made to the Tarzia Children Education Fund, c/o Tim Abell, Firstrust Bank, 15 E. Ridge Pike, Conshohocken, PA 19428.

Posted on Thursday, September 15, 2005

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