The small company that Gordon Zacks inherited in 1965 had become a titan in the footwear industry before he left its daily management in 2004.
Zacks, the longtime president and CEO of Pickerington-based R.G. Barry Corp., best known as the maker of Dearfoams slippers, died in his Bexley home on Saturday, Feb. 1. He was 80.
Born in Indiana but raised in Bexley, Zacks was 32 when his father died, leaving him to take over the helm of the company that his mother founded in the 1940s.
Zacks had worked at R.G. Barry for a decade prior to taking over the company, joining the business after graduation from Ohio State University.
His strength, he later learned, would be in organization -- he could shape an atmosphere where others thrived creatively. He became a sought-after speaker on the qualities of leadership at universities around the world.
At R.G. Barry, Zacks led the company to enormous growth. Sales topped $116 million in 1994, driven by the company's core slipper sales. But by 2004, sales had dropped, spurring Zacks to turn the top job over to Greg Tunney. Zacks remained chairman of the board of directors until his death.
"Gordon lived an amazing life and faced each day and every challenge with a passion and joy that infected all those around him," Tunney said in a statement. "He was a sharing mentor to many, including me."
Zacks was a vocal supporter of Israel, and his political activism took him to the Middle East more than 100 times. He worked with three U.S. presidents and five Israeli prime ministers, and was an adviser to President George H.W. Bush, who became his close friend.
His compassion went beyond his public life, as he tried to help those in need, said Kim Zacks, one of his two daughters.
"It was just the power of care, and my dad did that with anyone," she said.
Zacks hosted a series of gatherings in recent weeks to say goodbye to those he knew. His health had deteriorated quickly since mid-December, when doctors found that the prostate cancer he had for five years had spread to his liver, Kim Zacks said.
In addition to Kim Zacks, he is survived by his second daughter, Cathy Gildenhorn, and three grandchildren. His wife, Carol Sue Zacks, died in 2012.
A funeral was held Monday, Feb. 3, at Congregation Tifereth Israel, followed by interment at New Tifereth Israel Cemetery.