Remembering Sam Gilbert

It took 50+ years to build a legacy, become a giant in the industry, forge a reputation as a “go-to guy,” serve as a mentor and role model to many and repeatedly answer FTA’s calls to action and volunteer service.

Sam Gilbert, the 1989 inductee into FTA’s Hall of Fame, did that and more.

Considered a “friend,” “mentor,” “sounding board,” “teacher” and example of dedication, hard work and creative thinking, he often succeeded in and is remembered for inspiring others to actively engage in programs and activities to carry flexography forward. Unassuming by nature, he quietly passed away in November 2020.

Sam spent his entire 50+ year career with the General Printing Ink Division of Sun Chemical Corp. There, his prime responsibilities revolved around research, development and marketing of flexographic inks:

  • In 1954, while a chemistry student at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, he started work as a GPI technician focusing on color matching
  • Progressing to a flexographic lab technician, he eventually relocated to Dallas, TX to assume responsibility for technical service and liquid ink manufacturing
  • Returning to his New Jersey roots, he became product development manager
  • In 1978, Sam assumed market responsibility for both flexographic and gravure inks
  • Six years later, he took the role of technical manager for liquid inks and moved to the North Lake, IL location, where he spent the remainder of his career

FTA Ties

Sam was active in FTA for a full five decades, starting in 1974. He spoke at numerous roundtables, workshops and FORUMs, served six years on FTA’s Board of Directors and its Foundation’s Board of Trustees, held the office of treasurer, served on the Textbook Committee, Standardization Committee, Environmental Committee, Scholarship Committee and was Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) Subcommittee sub-chair (inks for process). Fittingly, Sam chaired FORUM in 1980 at the Hyatt Regency in Dallas, TX, where the main topic or central theme was “Compliance.”

In addition to FTA, he was active in the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA), Gravure Association of the Americas (GAA) and the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), and that service was reflected in his chairing 1988’s International Ink Conference, jointly staged by many of those organizations, FTA included. He considered his indoctrination into the Hall of Fame and his being named a NAPIM Printing Ink Pioneer as stand-out career highlights.

On FLEXO Magazine’s pages in the early 2000s, he shared personal perspectives:

“A priority is continued improvement in the inking chain to achieve faster print speeds and even better print quality. Technical needs include stronger and cleaner printing inks to support the above, as well as water systems that can truly replace solvent systems in all applications.”

“Air pollution, global warming, ground pollution, etc.—All of these will eventually cause us to move to new and different ink formulations.”

Fond Memories

“Sam was one of those shining lights that loved our industry and brought the science of ink and color into the language of our pressrooms,” according to fellow Hall of Fame Member Arleen Neustein. “He was a mentor and role model to so many and a major influence on the many committees and conferences in which he actively took part.”

Bob Mullen, former FFTA Board of Trustees chair and Sun Chemical executive, recalled, “Sam was a cultured man and great friend who also was smart enough to find and marry the wonderful Beth.” He continued, “I was proud to call Sam a friend and considered him to be a mentor to me, as well as a creative sounding board as we all sought to grow packaging ink sales.” Beyond their roles at Sun, Mullen stated, “Sam also was a strong influence on my activities within FTA, introducing me to people I had previously admired and supporting me as I began to become more involved in this group that helped to shape my career.”

Heather Buchholz, manager global marketing inks and global communications, offered, “Sam was a wonderful person and trained me when I started at Sun in 2000.” She relied on his guidance straight through to his retirement in 2005.

“Considered a ‘friend,’ ‘mentor,’ ‘sounding board,’ ‘teacher’ and example of dedication, hard work and creative thinking, he often succeeded in and is remembered for inspiring others to actively engage in programs and activities to carry flexography forward.”

Robert K. Lorenz, VP, business development for the Americas at Sun, said, “Sam, was a remarkable person for Sun Chemical. I knew him for over 40 years and he was there in the beginning of my career. He was an amazing mentor to so many people like Alfonso Paredes and myself through the course of our time in Sun Chemical. I remember working with Sam when I ran our Venezuelan operation to find local raw material solutions to products we could not source in the country. We would have marathon meetings late into the night thinking about creative ways to formulate around local nuances at customer locations. He was dedicated and one of the hardest-working individuals I met in my live. He will be missed by everyone who ever knew him. God creates wonderful teachers in our lives and Sam was certainly one of them.”

Chris Parrilli, president, North American Ink at Sun, reminisced, “Although young in the industry when Sam Gilbert was in his prime, what I do recall is that he was an absolute ‘giant’ of flexo and gravure chemistries and the application of those chemistries on press. Whether the questions came from trade associations, customers or competitors, Sam was the go-to resource. He was always willing to share his knowledge and was so involved in the advancement of flexo printing. As an inexperienced ink guy, Sam was always willing to support me and anyone that had a desire to learn. My sympathies to Sam’s family. He was a wonderful and giving man.”

Finally, Robert O’Boyle, senior key account manager—consumer packaged goods, noted, “As a young chemist in our R&D facility, I could always count on Sam to help when stuck on some technical issue or problem. I came to trust Sam as a mentor and personal friend. I consider myself lucky to have known him.”

So many did.