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Posted: April 10, 2009
By John Wright
Dick Packham passed away in March from vasculitis at the age of 66. Dick was an exceptional man and flavorist and all his many friends will miss him greatly.
I first met Dick when I moved from Montreal to BBA London in 1976. It took me a little time to realize what a remarkable person he was. He never sought to be in the limelight and he never took any steps whatever to actively promote his flavors. As far as Dick was concerned, his wife and children were his number one priority, while fronting the Big Band on trumpet came second and work trailed somewhere much further down the list.
In those days, the original Esrolko SA strawberry flavor was the acknowledged market leader, and most subsequent flavors were heavily influenced by it. Dick quietly came up with a totally novel approach that was highly realistic and much more heat stable, requiring very few ingredients. It was a million miles away from the market leader. Such a great flavor did not need any promotion; the sales force pounced and it soon became a top seller.
Strawberry was followed by honey, cola, roast beef, lemon—on and on they came, each totally original, each setting a new standard in the market. The formulations were generally uncomplicated, but very clever. In some ways, Dick created flavors like a perfumer. He aimed for consistency as the flavor aired off on a blotter.
Dick was very much a people person. He loved people. He formed very close relationships with his colleagues and customers. Appearances meant nothing—he instinctively understood the person beneath the shell. He saw good in everyone. The teams he formed among creation, application and sales were unbeatable.
Dick loved to travel and had a particularly close affinity to India and Japan. I have fond memories of Dick and me trying not to embarrass ourselves playing cricket on Chennai Beach against the locals and exploring ancient temples at Mahabalipuram (whilst trying at all costs to avoid the cobras).
We both transferred to New Jersey 15 years ago. Dick took over research creation and training. The best way of summing up the fun he infused into training is to quote one of his former trainees, Martin Ongteco: “Dick gave us whatever he could, whether it be a sympathetic ear, some fatherly and friendly guidance, or some silly old jokes and perhaps a few bars of an old song just to make us smile. We did have our fun and that’s how Dick liked it.” Another trainee from those times, Cathianne Leonardi, remembers Dick setting them challenging tasks “We would toil and struggle and when we were through he would celebrate our accomplishments by loudly proclaiming, ‘Aces!’” Many of the research flavors developed by Dick and his team in Montvale are now market standards.
He put up with my many childish pranks with unfailing good humor and rarely failed to take revenge, usually when I had forgotten my misdeed and my guard was down. When BBA was sold he made a wise decision to retire back to the United Kingdom to concentrate on his grandchildren. More than 200 friends attended his funeral. The vicar was the amazing Reverend Sharon Miles, who worked with Dick many, many years ago as a laboratory technician. Dick’s widow, Jenny, passed on to me a remark overheard from an onlooker: “that man must have been rich.” Dick was never financially rich, but he was fabulously wealthy in human terms. He was a unique man and a great friend to our family. We will all miss him.