My Friend Jay, Your Friend Jay, Everyone’s Friend Jay: RIP Jay Hitz

“Hey Gary, this is Randy, we’ve lost Jay”

On my first day at Extron back in 1987, Extron’s founder and president, Andrew Edwards, had me sit in his office and just listen to him as he made dozens of calls to random customers in the AV industry. To me, it was like he was talking to friends. All day long. At the very end of the day, he said, “that was relationship marketing.” He gave me a handful of books to finish reading by the end of my first week and told me to learn how to do that and I would be successful at Extron.

When I met Jay Hitz back in 1989, he was working for both Randy Pagnan and Bob Kremel at one of largest AV integrators in California, American Video Communications. We (Extron) had hired American Video to help us install our first training room. Jay wasn’t much older than me and we immediately became buddies — even before I hired him.

Jay was a goof-off from day one. Funny, trickster, jokester — they are all words that perfectly describe Jay. He was the “laugh-track” of every serious meeting I ever had. It didn’t matter if it was new product training or a sales territory meeting, Jay was always the one who sat in the back of room and made everyone laugh at everything. Me, himself, others in the room, product names and model numbers, the shape of sales regions. It was all made funny by Jay. If you can remember back to when you were in school and there was that so-called “class clown” who made every day fun — that was Jay.

Jay always smiled. Always. (Just look at the photos)

Jay also understood and valued relationships — that’s why I hired him. He was a natural at making friends and keeping them. He not only created Extron’s consultant liaison position back in 1991 — way before any other manufacturer in the industry even had one — but he mastered it. Every major consultant in the industry knew and loved Jay. I am saddened to know that many of them are likely reading this column, at this very moment, in shock that he’s gone.

I loved traveling with Jay — we’d laugh and laugh and laugh some more. On one trip in 1990 to visit every consultant on the east coast, we took two weeks to drive from Connecticut to Florida and I could tell you stories. Lots of stories. And, many of you in the industry have heard them — the smoking pancake one, the car phone one, the “every rental car’s a four-wheel drive” one and the Covid EzPix is a dag-gum antenna one. But the best part about that trip was what we did when we visited Richmond, Va. — his hometown. We spent the weekend at his mom’s house visiting his old high school and college friends, swimming in the James River and just hanging out.

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Everyone loved Jay. (You’ll see that from the comments.)

After that trip, we started working out together — in fact, Extron’s Ginger Dodier reminded me yesterday that Jay was the one who convinced us all at Extron to join LA Fitness and insisted we meet at 6 a.m. to work out. We played on a three-on-three basketball team together, we went to Disney together, watched Carolina basketball together, made fun of NASCAR together and were obsessed with El Pollo Loco together. When I was homeless for about six months back in 1992, we even lived together.

Jay and I worked together at Extron for eight years, but we were friends for 28.

I am not alone here. Everyone who knew Jay loved Jay. Jay’s the one smiling in all these photos.

When Randy Pagnan called me on Monday to tell me “we’ve lost Jay,” my heart sunk — you know the feeling that you get when your body’s in shock. Well, that feeling is still with me 48 hours later. My heart is broken and heavy and I will miss him. My thoughts are not only with Jay’s family — his daughter Lea and his wife Cat — but with all of his friends and extended Extron family, too. Not surprisingly, dozens of people from the early days at Extron, as well as in the industry, have already reached out to me over the past 48 hours expressing condolences and stories about Jay — all of them funny. Really funny. I am hopeful they will share their “Jay stories” so you understand why Jay was always smiling.

Just so you know, we won that three-on-three championship tournament for the entire state of California — and Jay hit the winning shot.

Jay’s service will be at Miramar Naval Air Station National Cemetery in San Diego next Wed., Sept. 19, at 10:30 a.m.

Gary Kayye

About Gary Kayye

Gary Kayye, founder of rAVe Publications, is one of the most prominent personalities in the audiovisual industry. He has been a contributor to WIRED magazine and a technical advisor and columnist for Sound & Communications magazine as well as an opinionated columnist for rAVe [Publications] since 2003. In addition to his writing and market analysis, Gary has been a product, marketing and business operations consultant to dozens of AV companies in the U.S. and overseas. Clients have included companies such as Sony, Sharp, Epson, Lutron, InFocus, Sanyo, Mitsubishi, NEC and Philips.   Gary, who has been involved with the audiovisual market for over 20 years, was the recipient of the InfoComm 2003 Educator of the Year Award and the 2007 NSCA Instructor of the Year Award. Over the years, he has donated much of his time as an active volunteer in the AV industry’s trade association and served as chairman of InfoComm’s Professional Education & Training Committee (PETC), chairman of the ICIA Design School Committee and chairman of InfoComm’s Installation School Committee. In addition, he has served on the InfoComm board of governors. He also helped grow the InfoComm Projection Shoot-Out as the premiere AV industry trade show special event serving on the committee from 1991 through 1997, and was instrumental in launching the Shoot-Out in the European market at the Photokina Expo in 1994 and 1996 as well as the Asian market at the 1995 and 1997 INFOCOMM Asia shows.   Prior to founding his own company, Gary was vice president of sales and marketing for AMX Corporation (www.amx.com), a manufacturer specializing in professional AV and residential AV control systems. Prior to AMX, Gary spent nine years at Extron Electronics (www.extron.com), rising to the position of vice president of sales and marketing. Gary earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1987 from the University of North Carolina and is currently Adjunct Faculty at UNC in the School of Journalism teaching a class on how future technologies will affect the future of advertising, PR and marketing.   He is also the founder of Swim for Smiles, a non-profit that raises money for the N.C. Children’s Hospital through swimming and other fitness-related events for kids. You can contact him at gary@ravepubs.com..

  • Chris Gillespie

    oh my god, i hadnt heard. when i think of jay i will always remember the greatest practical joke of all time on Jim Bullard at some restaurant in Tampa. Winter institute in 97 i think… Jay handed the plate to me, and Jim blamed Jay for the whole thing.

    He was a great guy.

  • RP Higgins

    Jay was with us at Electrohome/Christie around the turn of the Millennium. It was a brief, but memorable time with our crew back then. He was always fun at meetings. He had terrific spirit – not all moments were hilariously funny. He could be remarkably candid and discuss subjects and viewpoints many would not want to touch. Am glad to have known him. Wish the best for his surviving family.

  • Ginger Dodier

    Beautifully said….everyone’s friend.

  • Bill Schripsema

    Jay was one of the good guys who made the AV industry great! The world was a better place when he was here! My heartfelt sympathy to his family and friends. We miss him!

  • Gary Crumbley

    He was definitely one “class act” and a funny one at that!
    I remember the first time I met him back in the early days of Extron.
    My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
    He will be truly missed.

  • Bob ONeil

    I met Jay when he was at Christie; he was warm and personable and very witty too, with a smile that would light up his face and everyone else’s too. I just remember a lot of laughter and fun when running into him at InfoComm and Christie events too. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.