By Alan Caruba
Unless you are a pest control professional, it is unlikely you ever heard of Norm Ehmann. Those of us who were fortunate to know him, however, just loved the man. He passed away recently at the age of 84 and everyone in America owes him a huge debt of gratitude.
Every business and industry in America has a handful of men who transform it and always for the better. They come to their daily tasks with a personal integrity and an enthusiasm that is irresistible.
There was a time when, if people had a pest problem, they asked the local pest control provider to park his car or truck around the corner so others would not know. The inference was that you were not keeping a clean house. People who engaged in pest control had a handful of products and devices to get rid of insect and rodent pests. Their business practices frequently involved a low-ball price for dubious services and results.
Norm Ehmann was instrumental in changing that. He was involved in pest control for more than fifty years and he was passionate about it. What he and others did was introduce educational seminars to the profession. He understood that the most important element of eliminating insect and rodent pests was a thorough-going knowledge and understanding of their habits, life cycles, and harborages.
I knew Norm because, back in the 1970s I participated in the introduction of a remarkable new insecticide called “Ficam.” It was applied with water. It was lethal to a wide variety of insect pests, but virtually harmless to human beings. You’d think this was a good thing, but many years later, the Environmental Protection Agency demanded that the product undergo a repeat of the multi-million dollar registration process and the manufacturer decided it just wasn’t worth it.
I tell you this because it reflected what happened to DDT. During WWII, DDT successfully saved the lives of countless American soldiers and refugees from insect-borne diseases. People were literally dusted with DDT and, then as now, they lived because of this remarkable insecticide. Then Rachel Carson wrote a book, “Silent Spring”, that defamed DDT and, in time, it was banned. Every year now, in Africa alone, five million people die from Malaria for the lack of this miracle insecticide.
Norm worked for Van Waters & Rogers, a leading distributor of pest control products that purchased the company for which he was a salesman. He helped take VW&R from a $3 million operation under its previous owner to a $200 million enterprise. The introduction of new pesticides is the reason that Americans do not have to fear the diseases that insect and rodent pests spread whether it be in a supermarket, a hospital, a school, a hotel, or anywhere else professional pest control services exist.
For Norm, pesticides, used properly, were the answer to the threats of disease and property damage that had always plagued mankind. Over his life he was instrumental in creating 8,000 insect slides and specimens to help train pest control operators, owners and technicians.
That’s why people greet “the Orkin man” and other pest control folk with a smile. Most arrive in a clean uniform, have a professional demeanor, and all are licensed and certified by state agencies.
Norm didn’t just give sales talks. He helped train thousands of men and women to be effective, to understand the products they were using, to understand the pests to be exterminated, to project pride in their profession, to regard and respect each customer as essential to their own success.
Such people transform their industries and, as a result, improve the lives of all Americans.