Birds of a Feather
Debbi seconds the notion that her husband loved sharing, adding that, “When you give him a subject that he’s knowledgeable about, watch out! He’ll go on and on.”
In Mark Mazur, Greg found a kindred spirit: Someone who shared his near-endless interest in the technical minutiae as well as his non-existent interest in beating around the bush.
“He’ll tell you he got more out of the relationship than I did, but it’s at least a toss-up,” the industry veteran, DuPont lifer and FTA Hall of Fame member says. “He’s a very honest, very straightforward guy. He tells you what he thinks and expects you to tell him what you think. I have trouble not telling people what I think, so we just hit it off.”
The pair’s fateful meeting happened in the early 1990s, shortly after Greg came on board at C-P Flexible Packaging. Mazur, at the urging of a DuPont employee who handled press characterizations named Larry Evans, traveled to York to do a press trial. “Larry said everybody should have a customer; whether you’re in sales or not, it was a good idea to have one you call your own,” Mazur explains. “So I went up there, and that’s when I met Greg Collins.”
It was a “match made in heaven”: Greg, a printer who wanted to learn about new technologies and how they worked; Mark, a lab rat who now had a willing—even eager—participant to put budding plate developments on press. For the next 20 years, every trial Mazur did was at C-P. “Greg allowed me to run things in his plant and do things I couldn’t do anywhere else,” he says. “It got to the point where everybody on press knew me.”
In those two decades, new plate materials were put through their paces. Mazur brought countless new DuPont Cyrel employees to Greg’s pressroom floor to see the role their products played in a full production process. And he says the first color-managed proof ever made on a flexographic press was made on one of Greg’s machines.
One particularly memorable trial came amid the launch of DuPont’s FAST thermal plate making system. “We didn’t know how well it would perform, or its longevity. So I took it to Greg. He had a job for [Japanese manga] Yu-Gi-Oh! and it was 4 million impressions,” Mazur recalls. “He said, ‘If you make plates for that, we’ll run it. If it comes out bad, we’ll pull it; if it comes out well, we’ll sell it.’” The plates were produced using FAST, and over the next three days, the 4 million impressions were produced.
Looking back on the effect their relationship had on his career, Mazur recognizes how much stemmed from that one drive to Pennsylvania. “With his willingness to do all these things, he was like my mentor for 20-plus years,” he says. “If I hadn’t taken that trip, my life would be totally different.”
With track records as FTA supporters well-established, Greg and Mazur’s attendance at FORUM each year gave birth to their own miniature technical conference of sorts. On the Saturday night before the Association’s annual event, the two would go out to dinner—often accompanied by other storied flexographers and FTA supporters like Al Bowers, Jean Jackson and Mark Samworth. Restaurant selection began months in advance, due in part to what is maybe the only pronounced difference in the pair’s personal preferences (“Greg likes what I’ll call ‘foo-foo’ food—He likes quality, I like quantity,” Mazur says) as well as the new Hall of Famer’s penchant for thoroughness.
Seated at a table, Greg would pull out print samples. “People would say, ‘Put those away!’ and he’d say, ‘No, we have to discuss them,’” Mazur says. “Wherever we were eating, there were always print samples involved.”
Greg retired in 2018 and the streak of dinners ended that same year, with No. 27, at FORUM in Indianapolis, IN. Today, the two flexographers meet at Longwood Gardens. There, they birdwatch, enjoy the outdoors, and both figuratively and literally stop and smell the flowers.
Reflecting on the impact his close friend has had on himself and the industry they continue to orbit, Mazur finds his value in the invaluable.
“What separates one printer from another? Anybody can buy plates and consumables, and you can hire people to run a press. What really separates them are those intangible assets that you can’t put on a balance sheet,” he hypothesizes. “Greg is one of those unbelievably important intangible assets. The openness, the willingness to learn, the fortitude to make things change.”
And Now, Eternity
Dave Horsman is one of the 57 other individuals with whom Greg now has something in common. Their careers have little overlap—his tenure on FTA and FFTA’s Boards ended at the turn of the century, and he retired one year before Greg’s name first appeared on their rosters. He even concedes he would not know the new Hall of Famer if he ran into him on the street.
And yet, Dave knows him by name. “I remember when he became part of the board, I was drawn to the fact that he was a converter. That was when I saw how active he was with FTA,” he says of Greg. “To do all he did, you’ve got to have a passion for the industry and a passion for the process.”
Extraordinary circumstances prevented Greg from experiencing the celebrated tradition of walking across the stage at FORUM’s Awards Banquet, shaking the hands of his now-fellow Hall of Famers while photos from his storied career loop on a screen displayed in front of hundreds of industry members.
That tradition is an attempt to encapsulate all of a person’s contributions into the span of a few minutes. But to focus on the tradition is to miss the forest for the trees. It would be impossible to accurately measure Greg’s entire body of work—in minutes, more than 12 million; in feet of substrate, maybe more; in cells on a spreadsheet, maybe more still.
And then there is the intangible to which Mazur alluded. The immeasurable—the knowledge he shared, and the web through which it spread; the procedures he put in place and the way their benefits trickled down to a greater effect; the instances where he led by example, and those who continue to be better for it.
Greg’s body of work spanned decades and it will be longer than that before his impact can be fully measured. So while we will not get to recognize it on stage this year, outsized and wide-reaching, it will most certainly endure beyond these extraordinary circumstances, until a time that we can.