When NACE camaraderie lifted me personally and professionally

In October 1968, fresh out of graduate school, I began to work for my father, Kenneth Tator, who owned a sole proprietorship, Kenneth Tator Associates, a coatings consulting and panel testing company. He had started the business in 1949 when I was six years old, and worked hard at it afterward.

I knew very little about his work, and certainly nothing about coatings. I looked forward to working with him and learning the technical aspects of the business from my father, and we had very preliminarily discussed him retiring in about 15 years, me working and learning from him until then, and taking over the business after his retirement--but still with his participation and help.

Unfortunately, none of that came to be, as my father had a sudden fatal heart attack on January 11, 1969. He was almost 62 years old. I had just turned 28 years old.

Besides being stunned and very sorrowful, I became the sole owner of a company in which I had no technical knowledge and little business knowledge. Fortunately, he had registered to attend the NACE Corrosion Conference at the Rice hotel in Houston that year, and I called NACE and asked if I could go in his place as we had the same name. NACE, of course, agreed and published the notice of my father’s death in Materials Performance immediately prior to the conference.

When I arrived at the conference, many of his friends met me, introduced me to their friends, accompanied me to meeting rooms, and led me around. It was a wonderful experience.

The NACE Conference, at that time was not nearly as large as it is now, and after the daily technical meetings many of the coating’s technical experts met in hospitality suites sponsored by coating manufacturers for snacks and drinks. Also, after dinner, the hospitality suites were open and again everyone congregated to discuss technical issues, to argue their opinions expressed during the technical meetings, and to associate with each other.

The coating technical experts (owners, consultants, coating manufacturers, contractors, etc.) congregated in these hospitality suites again after dinner, always until midnight or so and often until 2-3 AM. My father’s friends also accompanied me to the hospitality suites, enabling me to listen to the discussions.  In fact, I gained my technical education from those hospitality suites at subsequent NACE conferences over the next 7 to 10 years. It was an amazing education, and I heard practical points and counterpoints, advantages and disadvantages and information regarding all aspects of coating manufacturing, coating application, and coating technical problems.  I also gained many friends who helped me, reviewed my early technical reports, and gave me sage advice.

I do believe if I had not received this “higher practical coatings education”, Kenneth Tator Associates (now KTA-Tator, Inc.) might not exist today, and I would have had to make my living as a used-car salesman or as a Pittsburgh steelworks ironworker. I owe an awful lot to NACE, and my father’s friends!

Hospitality suites of that type do not exist today at corrosion conferences. There still is good drinking and sociality, but the technical discussions and arguments do not occur in this type of public setting.

I mentioned this when I was the T-6 Coatings Chairman from 1984-1987, and we set up what are now called “Rap and Rye” socials after technical meetings.  I wanted to emulate the old hospitality suite experience. While the Rap and Ryes were and are well done and informative, it wasn’t quite the same as the old hospitality suites because there is much less drinking today than in the olden golden days-- except for my drinking!

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