Industry leaders past, at one of many events celebrating our comaraderie, include Bill Luther, former manager of the Norfolk (Va.) Scope, second from right. With him in this 1980s photo are Ray Ward, Charlie Graviss, Don Jewell, Jack Sydney, Bill Cunningham and Win Hanssen.
Bill Luther, former manager of the Norfolk Scope and IAVM president and McElravy Award winner, died less than a week after fellow IAVM past president and current GM of Moscone Center for SMG, Dick Shaff.
Luther, 89, died Aug.8 in Spartanburg, S.C, where he fought cancer for several years. Shaff died Aug. 2 near his San Mateo home on his way to Moscone Center, San Francisco, for an employee’s retirement party.
The industry mourned the loss of two other past president’s of IAVM and leaders of the industry, David Ross and Roy Saunders, just two months ago.
A tribute to Dick Shaff is published in the August edition of Venues Today, which will be in the mail next week. Shaff was 77. He started his 55 year career in venue management at the Long Beach (Calif.) Convention Center in 1961, learning his craft from Win Hanssen. He moved to San Francisco to open Moscone Center for SMG in1981 and managed that venue through four expansions and for 35 years.
Shaff was president of IAVM in1994-95 and won the McElravy Award in 2002.
Luther helmed IAVM in 1979-80; one of his major accomplishments being selection of a management firm to direct what was then IAAM (International Association of Auditorium Managers), prior to the hiring of John Swinburn. He was awarded the McElravy award for outstanding service to the industry in 1984
John Rhamstine, current manager of Seven Venues, which include Norfolk (Va.) Scope, which Luther managed for 12 years until he retired in 2000, said one of Luther’s proudest moments was construction of the 12,000-seat Harbor Park for Triple A baseball. It is currently home to the Baltimore Orioles affiliate Norfolk Tides. The state-of-the-art stadium opened in 1993.
“The second thing that stands out is that he brought hockey back to Norfolk,” Rhamstine said. In 1989 Luther signed an agreement with Blake Cullen, who had the Norfolk Admirals there for eight years to bring hockey back to the Scope.
Sports was definitely a Luther love. He negotiated to bring Sweet Pea Whitaker, a famous boxer who grew up in the projects, for a number of fights in his hometown. The fights were promoted by the Duva family.
Even after Luther retired, he kept his hand in the business, helping the city renovate and reopen the 620-seat historic Crispus Attucks Cultural Center.
One of the dicier moments in Rhamstine’s career as AGM to Luther was introducing him to Fred Rosen, CEO of Ticketmaster at the time. Rhamstine was well aware there might be fireworks when he brought the “New York Jewish guy and the Southern Methodist good old boy from the South” into the same negotiation room. Norfolk had its own ticketing system, Select-a-Seat, and Rosen was interested in bringing Ticketmaster to town.
Rhamstine needn’t have worried. Luther and Rosen hit it off from the get-go. Ticketmaster bought out Select-a-Seat and is with Norfolk still.
Rhamstine also remembered the tone of their relationship by a plaque Luther sent to Rosen: “Never try to teach a pig to sing; you’re wasting your time and you’re annoying the pig.”
“Fred thought that was hysterical,” Rhamstine remembered.
Luther was an old-school, no nonsense director, Rhamstine recalled. “He gave me, as assistant director, a lot of authority for managing the affairs of the building. Bill was dealing with city mayor and city council. He did not tolerate nonsense from people when they were working. He was as frugal and careful a man with money as any I’ve ever met. He taught me a lot about budgeting, getting the most out of people, flexible schedules.
“He didn’t tolerate promoters giving him a hard time. He used to say (Irving) Feld sent all new promoters to him so he could break them in.”
Just two years ago, Luther was still attending the ad hoc Virginia Arena Managers & Suppliers Assn. (VAMSA), a gathering put on by retired vendor George Cook. “We’d go to someone’s building or hotel and tell lies and drink a lot,” said Rhamstine, laughing. It was a close-knit group, all with decades in venue management.
Luther is survived by his wife of 58 years, Doris; daughters Ola Snow and Debbie Teagan, and son BJ.
Before Norfolk, Luther managed several civic and entertainment facilities in Danville, Va., and Huntsville, Ala., as well as the South Carolina cities of Spartanburg and Greenville.
Shaff only managed two venues in his 55-year career and he had not retired, though he did take a leave of absence in June, saying “I’ll be back.” He was driving to a party for a co-worker on Aug. 2 when he died. He only made it two doors down the street from his home in San Mateo when a blood clot killed him instantly.
Born and raised in Oakland, Shaff moved to L.A. with his family while in high school and graduated from Long Beach State University in 1961. He started work for the city of Long Beach as a budget analyst. He eventually worked his way up to assistant general manager of the Long Beach Convention Center.
Shaff is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Marilyn, and their two children and five grandchildren.