Mark Zweig offers remembrance on passing of dear friend and firm leader Joe Lalli.We lost a great leader, design professional, and friend with the passing Joseph J. “Joe” Lalli, FASLA, in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 25. The son of a New York shoemaker, Joe had an amazing and successful career, first as a professor and then for next for 40-plus-years at the internationally acclaimed planning and design firm EDSA (formerly Edward Durrell Stone, Jr., and Associates). I first met Joe in the early ’90s, when Ed Stone called me to get help with his executive committee, which wasn’t “getting along.” That trip resulted in Joe being named managing partner by the EDSA BOD, a job he held for about 20 years; a period during which EDSA enjoyed incredible success – growing from roughly $6.5 million in annual revenue to a peak of about $60 million near the end of Joe’s tenure. Joe was a powerful guy who defied all stereotypes. A tremendously talented designer loved by his clients, Joe could sell like crazy but was so soft-spoken that at times you had to strain to hear him. I think that was part of his success. He made you listen. Joe was EDSA and EDSA was Joe. I never met a guy more dedicated and obsessed with both his company and his projects than Joe. He thought about his work 24 hours a day. He called me most weekends, when he wasn’t overseas, just to check in and tell me what was going on with both the firm and his jobs. Our relationship was far more than that of consultant and client. The very last night I spent with the mother of my two oldest daughters was at Joe and Jeanne’s house in Maine. Several years later, it was because of Joe and Jeanne that I met my wife, Katie. My older girls and I were down in Ft. Lauderdale for Easter vacation and the Lallis invited us over to their house for Easter dinner. They also invited Katie, who at that time was a young landscape architect at EDSA just getting started out. She didn’t have any family down there and they didn’t want her to be alone on a holiday. Those are the kind of people Joe and Jeanne are. We picked the middle name of our first daughter together – Josephine – to honor Joe. Joe was an amazing designer – both large and small scale. It could be a 60,000-acre multi-use development in a foreign land or a tiny half bath retiling project in Massachusetts – he was never too busy to give design ideas on anything. I always got his input on my residential projects because he had such a unique and artistic yet functional way of looking at things. He was also a tremendous and prolific artist – particularly as a watercolor painter. He was an accomplished teacher and helped many people learn how to draw, paint, and design. Joe was very patient with others but not with himself. He pushed himself so hard... too hard... right up to the end. I never saw a guy who would travel like he did to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe – sometimes all in the same month – for months and years on end! Joe was at the forefront of every challenge facing his firm in the ’90s and 2000s. His leadership got the firm into China. He negotiated every financial and business obstacle thrown their way. He also ran the firm’s largest design studio for many years. And he helped so many people grow into incredibly talented designers and planners – many of which are still at EDSA today. I never met anyone inside or outside of EDSA who didn’t have complete respect and admiration for Joe. He was truly the archetypal design professional. In fact, Joe was the very first Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership Award Winner – an honor well-bestowed and one he was proud of. He also had a fantastic sense of humor. He told hilarious stories of his adventures. He could do impressions. He would have you rolling on the floor at times when he got ramped up – usually after a glass of wine or two. He was just fun to be around. He had a bucket of mechanical hand mixers. He had more art than anyone I have ever seen and more houses and art studios, too, including a plantation in Honduras. You never knew what he would come up with; he was full of surprises. When Joe came to Arkansas last year and spoke at The Fay Jones School of Architecture, he stayed at our house. The last night he was there, he and I stayed up late using our iPads to look for videos and sound clips of Ferrari engines. He just loved the sound! He was always looking at Ferraris but never bought himself one. Back in the ’90s, I was down in Fort Lauderdale visiting Joe when we went to an old warehouse they kept to store stuff in. There was his Honda 350 Scrambler – parked since the ’70s – rotting away. I convinced Joe to send it to me and I restored it for him. He took it to his vacation compound in Maine, complete with several small houses and a miniature replica of Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel that he used for his art studio there. And every Spring Joe would call me to tell me he got the Honda going again (usually with a new battery!) and how much he loved it. I don’t have that many true friends. Joe was one of them. We all lost a great leader – a great example – and consummate design professional with Joe’s passing. May he not be forgotten. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments email@example.com.
This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1079, originally published 11/10/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.