(Oct. 30) The watermelon industry lost one of its most honorable leaders in August, said Arnold Mack, president of Lake Wales, Fla.-based McMelon Inc.

Tom Ayoob Jr., owner and president of Tom Ayoob Inc., Pittsburgh, died Aug. 8. Though most of his contributions were made behind the scenes, the 70-year-old produce industry veteran will be remembered most for his integrity and fairness in a sometimes dishonest business, Mack said.

“I can’t think of anyone that’s going to be more sorely missed,” Mack said. “It’s going to keep on turning, keep on going, but it’s not going to be easy for someone to step in and fill his shoes.”

Mack said Ayoob was willing to help business owners who found themselves in stressful situations, and he never took advantage of others.

“Where most people would just take advantage, say, ‘Well the guy’s in trouble; I’ll make me a couple three thousand off of it and give him back what’s left’ — but Tom was not that kind of guy.”

Mack, a 37-year produce veteran who worked with Ayoob for about 25 years, said Ayoob never refused to donate his time and money to the industry.

At watermelon association fund-raising auctions, Mack said, Ayoob was usually the top contributor. He also never refused to help sponsor industry-related fund-raising events, Mack said.

In his career, Ayoob served on the board of the National Watermelon Association and Florida Watermelon Association. He also was president of the Pittsburgh Wholesale Produce Association at the time of his death.

After graduating from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, in 1955, Ayoob spent two years in the Army, where he coached a softball team. When he got out of the service, he attended law school for a year and a half at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., before his father asked him to come home and take over the family business. He helped update the company by buying machines and expanding the product line to include pumpkins, potatoes and onions.

Ayoob was a sports enthusiast. Although he liked to attend any sporting event, he was a big fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates. He held season tickets for both teams. Ayoob also enjoyed high school sports and frequently attended football and basketball games at his and his sons’ alma mater, Central Catholic High School.

Ayoob liked to garden and grew tomatoes, eggplant, basil, peppers and zucchini in a corner of his back yard.

“No one ate more fruits and vegetables than Tom,” said his wife, Doris. “He was his best customer.”

Tom Ayoob Inc. was founded in 1902 by Ayoob’s grandfather, H.K. Ayoob. Tom’s son, Jim is the current president, and Doris is the owner.

Ayoob is survived by his wife; two sons, Jim and Thomas III; a daughter, Ellen Ayoob Shelly; and four grandchildren.