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John D. Pope, 86, longtime owner of F.W. Webb Co.

Mr. Pope’s son Jeff said that his dad never wanted to be in the public spotlight.

By Marvin Pave Globe Correspondent 

In 1979, when the trade journal Supply House Times named the F.W. Webb Co. Wholesaler of the Year, it noted that “a lot of people promise you opportunity, but John Pope gives it to you in spades.”

Mr. Pope had taken over as head of F.W. Webb, a regional plumbing and heating supplies company, after the death of his father, Roger W. Pope, in 1961.

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“He is tough, but he is also generous and he’s fair as long as you take care of his company,” the trade journal said of Mr. Pope. “He will give you as much autonomy as it takes to get the job done, but you have to be accountable.”

Annual revenue for F.W. Webb, whose logo has appeared on the Green Monster at Fenway Park since 2006, grew from $5 million to more than $1 billion under his leadership.

Mr. Pope, who had been the longest leader and owner of F.W. Webb, and a former president of the American Supply Association, died of Parkinson’s disease Jan. 9 in his Marblehead home. He was 86.

“My father told me that to get respect you had to earn it, and not because of your last name,” said his son Jeff, of Beverly, who is now president of the company.

“For all his accomplishments in business and in life, he never wanted the spotlight and he would get extremely passionate about not having the company name changed to Pope, even though as owner he was the architect of its greatest progress.”

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The plumbing, HVAC, and industrial pipe valve and fittings supplier was founded in 1866. Upon buying the business, Frank W. Webb changed its name in 1900 to F.W. Webb Manufacturing Co. It was purchased in 1933 by Roger Pope and his partners.

Currently headquartered in Bedford, F.W. Webb employs some 2,200 people at its wholesale stores and its retail arm, Frank Webb Home, throughout New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

In the company’s online tribute the “Life and Legacy of John D. Pope,” Mr. Pope highlighted as key milestones in his tenure the establishment of a central distribution system and an employee profit-sharing program.

“Where Every Customer Counts,” a company history, noted that after Mr. Pope was discharged as a Navy lieutenant in 1956, he went from commanding 90 men aboard the USS Sperry to pushing a broom the next day at the former Webb headquarters warehouse on Columbus Avenue in Roxbury.

“It was one of the biggest comedowns in my life,” wrote Mr. Pope, who subsequently was promoted to inventory clerk, then was handed a price book and sent out to cover metro Boston and the South Shore.

“One day my father told me he had an offer to sell the company and asked me what I thought,” he wrote. “I told him not to accept. He didn’t and looking back I’m glad I answered the way I did.”

Jeff Pope recalled a meeting he and his father had with Red Sox officials to discuss what the family had planned to be a modest advertising display at Fenway Park.

“They mentioned that Bob’s Stores would no longer have its logo on the Green Monster, and that we could have that spot, although it might be more money than we wanted to spend,” Jeff said. “So we decided to go big.”

That marketing partnership also recognized F.W. Webb as the team’s official distributor of plumbing, heating, HVAC, and pipe-valve-fittings supplies. In 2013, F.W. Webb completed a family restroom upgrade at the ballpark.

“John’s reputation as a business executive was undeniable,” said Red Sox president Sam Kennedy, “but what we will remember most is his infectious personality and loyal friendship.”

Born in Cambridge, John David Pope graduated in 1949 from Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H., where he was on the yearbook staff and participated in skiing, football, baseball, and lacrosse.

Mr. Pope was a varsity lacrosse player at Dartmouth College, from which he graduated in 1954. Three of his children and his father also graduated from Dartmouth.

In 1955, Mr. Pope married Virginia Starr, who was known as Jinny. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and president of her alumnae class, she died in 2016. Together they had shared many trips overseas, especially to Ireland and Scotland.

Mr. Pope’s several prominent roles as a Kimball Union alumnus included serving as board chairman and as capital campaign chairman.

He helped raise $60 million through two major fund-raising efforts, and many of those millions came out of his own pocket.

The lighted turf field on campus is named for Mr. Pope, and Pope Chapel in Baxter Hall is named for his mother, the former Marjorie Hart.

“His personal commitment was unwavering,” said Michael Schafer, head of school at KUA. “Throughout John’s lifetime he dedicated much of his volunteer time, talent, and treasure to help transform our academy.”

A golf aficionado, Mr. Pope once played in a pro-am tournament with Arnold Palmer. Mr. Pope was a longtime member at Tedesco Country Club in Marblehead, and was once a single-digit handicapper. He also co-sponsored a corporate tent at the 1999 Ryder Cup matches at The Country Club in Brookline, and was a member at Sleepy Hollow Club in New York, and a founder of the Baker Hill Golf Club in Newbury, N.H.

“John was a passionate, vocal football fan,” recalled his prep school and college classmate Phil Cooke. “We once traveled to Princeton in a snowstorm to root for Dartmouth. He carried that same passion on to his other pursuits.”

Deke Emmons, another of Mr. Pope’s close friends from KUA and Dartmouth, said his former golfing partner’s fighting spirit, especially as his illness progressed, “was something to behold.”

Mr. Pope, who was president and CEO of F.W. Webb for most of his tenure, visited the office once a week until the week before he died.

A memorial service has been held for Mr. Pope, who in addition to his son Jeff leaves another son, Steve, of Hancock, N.H.; two daughters, Tracey Pfister and Nanny Noyes, both of Marblehead; a sister, Eleanor Pope Ammen of Marblehead; and 14 grandchildren.

A celebration of his life, for family and friends, will be held at noon May 12 in Tedesco Country Club.

“One of dad’s favorite songs was ‘My Way,’ ” said his daughter Nanny. “The lyrics are truly my dad. He didn’t like quitters very much, and gave respect to anyone who tried. It was playing the game that mattered more to him than sitting on the sidelines.”


Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.