Remembering Sonny Sonnenfeld, 1919-2016

by Gary Fails | Feb 15, 2016

The lighting industry lost a legend with the passing of Sonny Sonnenfeld.   We send our condolences to his immediate and extended family. 

Sonny never stopped thinking about lighting, or working in our industry.  Anyone who   met him has some story of how Sonny influenced them. . . . and here are some of mine.

Sonny always offered ideas.  From the earliest years of City Theatrical, Sonny would call me with product ideas and business suggestions.  His calls were always brief and to the point.  He’d say, “You should develop an accessory for this fixture.”  Then maybe a few other words, then he’d say good bye.  He didn’t belabor the point, but just dropped if off and moved on.    

Sonny freely gave his thoughts and ideas away to the lighting industry.  Every so often I’d receive a thick envelope full of sketches or cut sheets from products from a previous  generation.  A handwritten note would say, “You should be making this stuff.  The world needs better examples of it.”   I was just one of many business owners, sales managers, and lighting designers that Sonny did this with.

Sonny was always helping to make connections between people.  He would stroll into our booth at a trade show and say, “I just saw so and so, do you know him?   Call him, you guys should know each other.”   He helped me meet dozens of new business contacts this way.

Sonny genuinely wanted to help people succeed.   Sonny and I had a period of several years where he was officially part of our advisory team.  We met at his apartment regularly, and we would discuss the future of City Theatrical.  He helped me understand how to organize and compensate our sales team, how to branch out into architectural lighting accessories, and we discussed what products the lighting world might need.  He was always totally prepared, with an agenda, notes, stacks of research material, and lists of names of people to call and visit, which he had already facilitated by placing an introductory call.  He was always encouraging.

Like many, many, before me, I learned a lot from Sonny, and I am grateful that I had the chance to work with him closely late in his life.  Sonny was a warm human being who built close relationships with people.   He created dense and long lasting social networks of friends and colleagues that spanned many decades.  Like the song says, “People who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”  Sonny loved people and surrounded himself with interesting people in his business life, and did this even more so in his personal life.  He was a unique individual who lived a long and full life.  We are all lucky to have known him.