He was 68.
Eastman worked in the grocery business all his life, but was also known for his giving back to the community, exemplified in recent years when he and his family donated money for the construction of an athletic complex at the new Gallia Academy High School, which will bear the Eastman name.
During a special meeting of the Gallipolis City Board of Education on Tuesday, Superintendent Jack Payton said, with his voice choking, “Our community has lost a great leader. He will be tremendously missed.”
“Absolutely an outstanding businessman and overly generous in giving to the community as a real philanthropist” was how Eastman was characterized by Marianne Campbell, former president of the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce and Community Improvement Corporation.
“He cared about the future of Gallipolis and Gallia County as well as the region,” she added. “He was very community-minded, as is his wife. He will be sorely missed.”
“I considered him one of my best friends and I am deeply saddened by his passing,” said State Rep. Clyde Evans of Rio Grande, a former administrator at the University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College where Eastman was a member of the university board of trustees.
“He made a great contribution to Rio Grande and in the number of jobs he produced and in the number of families he provided for,” Evans added. “He will be greatly missed by a great many people.”
Born in Meigs County in September 1940, Eastman graduated from Pomeroy High School when he was 16. While in high school, he began his association with Kroger Co. at its Pomeroy store, progressing through the ranks in several departments and eventually becoming store manager.
Eastman won several promotions to to larger Kroger supermarkets and later became a grocery merchandising representative for the company’s Charleston, W.Va., division.
After 23 years with Kroger, Eastman left to open the first Foodland store bearing his name in March 1980 along what was then U.S. 35 and now Jackson Pike in the Spring Valley area near Gallipolis.
Additional Foodland locations under the banner of Ohio Valley Supermarkets Inc. were opened in Point Pleasant, W.Va., in 1983 and at Pomeroy in 1984. Over the years, Eastman, his wife, the former Sheila Strauss of Pomeroy, and sons Brent and Kevin would open additional stores either as Foodlands or Save-A-Lots in Ohio and West Virginia, which today constitute the two divisions of Ohio Valley Supermarkets.
In addition to those stores, the Eastmans also purchased Bidwell Hardware next to the Buckeye Foodland off Ohio 160 in 2004, bringing the total number of stores operated by the Eastmans to 14.
Another Gallia County location in addition to the Spring Valley and Buckeye Foodlands was the opening of a new Foodland on the 200 block of Second Avenue in Gallipolis, a major addition to the downtown area.
Through donations and support of organizations and education in the form of scholarships, Eastman and his family became known for their involvement in the community, and for their generosity.
Among numerous boards on which he served, Eastman was a director of Ohio Valley Banc Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey E. Smith recalled meeting Bob and Sheila Eastman in 1979, when they first moved to Gallipolis.
“Bob was a tireless worker and energetic entrepreneur as well as an employer and supporter of young people in every market he entered,” Smith said. “I never had a conversation with Bob that I didn’t learn something. His energy and enthusiasm will be missed by his Ohio Valley Banc Corp. family.”
Eastman joined the Ohio Valley Bank Co. Board of Directors in June 1986 and became a charter member of the Ohio Valley Banc Corp. board in October 1992.
In addition to serving on the bank’s board, Eastman served on the bank’s Executive Committee; Compensation and Management Succession Committee; and chaired the Marketing and Long Range Planning Committee in addition to the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee.
He leaves his wife, Sheila, who is secretary-treasurer of Ohio Valley Supermarkets, and his sons who are executives with the firm — Brent as first vice president and director of sales advertising and promotions, and Kevin, second vice president and director of pricing and computer operations.
Services will be 11 a.m. Saturday at the First Church of God, with calling hours set for 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at the church. Willis Funeral Home is handling arrangements.
It was announced at Tuesday’s City Board of Education meeting that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the athletic boosters associations of Gallia Academy, River Valley and South Gallia high schools.