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Rain Bird CEO dies

February 1, 2021
Tony LaFetra (Photo: Rain Bird)

Tony LaFetra (Photo: Rain Bird)

Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra, 80, president and CEO of Rain Bird Corp., died on Jan. 29.

Rain Bird said he will be remembered as a passionate business leader whose work has had a lasting impact on the irrigation industry, generations of employees and the community.

LaFetra built the irrigation company in Glendora, Calif., into an international market leader. LaFetra worked hard to promote the company’s guiding principle, “the intelligent use of water” around the globe.

He led the company’s transformation from a manufacturer of brass impact sprinklers, primarily used in agriculture, to a provider of irrigation products used worldwide in landscapes, golf courses, sports fields and farms.

“The irrigation industry brings moisture to crops and landscapes when the skies do not,” he had said.

He joined the business in 1964, first serving as a plant manager and later taking on the roles of vice president of sales and marketing, and then executive vice president. In 1978, he succeeded his mother, Rain Bird’s co-founder, Mary E. LaFetra, as president and CEO.

Innovations that revolutionized the irrigation industry occurred during LaFetra’s time with the company, including the computerized central control system for irrigation management in the 1970s and the launch of subsurface drip irrigation to save water and reduce the need for herbicides.

He stood for quality in everything he did. He set high expectations for himself, for Rain Bird,and for its employees. Those who knew him said he believed that values are integral to achieving success. He was a model of integrity, humility, hard work and care for others. He was an advocate for education. He earned a bachelor’s degree and MBA from Stanford University. He was a lifelong learner and placed a high value on the education of Rain Bird employees. Many employees at Rain Bird attribute their college educations, advanced degrees and less formal education to the support that Rain Bird has provided to them over the years.

Outside of Rain Bird, he sat on the boards of directors of several universities. He most recently sat on the Board of Trustees at the University of La Verne, and he donated to establish the LaFetra College of Education.

“I know that education transforms lives … so I dedicate my gift … knowing we can impact generations of future teachers and students,” he had said.

He was also passionate about giving back to the community. He instilled these values at Rain Bird, encouraging employees to donate their time to local communities. He supported many organizations, including but not limited to, the Theodore Payne Foundation, Citrus College Foundation, California Native Plants Society and United Way.

In his free time, he enjoyed fishing and hiking and the botany of the Southern California deserts and mountains. On weekends, he would escape to his cabin in the nearby mountains, where he was known to enjoy improving his property using his bulldozer.

He encouraged Rain Bird employees to enjoy time outside of work and to take care of their health. He promoted exercise, positivity and gratitude.

He is survived by his two children, Suzanne LaFetra Collier and Michael LaFetra, his sister, Sarah Lynne Ludwick, his brother-in-law, Art Ludwick, as well as four grandchildren.

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