Writing obituaries is a necessary part of the profession of journalism, and not a particularly fun one, especially when it involves someone you knew. I started to write the word “know,” rather than “knew” since it's hard to think of someone who recently died in the past tense. But, one might say, death is part of life and the best way to remember someone is to celebrate who they were.
Personally I was sad to learn about the passing of one of the most personable and unique individuals I've known in the rental industry — Hotch Manning. (Read our obituary of Manning at http://rermag.com/trends_analysis/headlinenews/hotch-manning-dies-012510.)
I don't think too many readers of this blog will think — “Hmm, Hotch Manning, I think I might have met him.” If you have to wonder about it, you probably didn't know him.
Hotch owned A-1 Rental Centers in Las Cruces, N.M., which he founded in 1979 and sold in 1998, so he's been away from the industry for a while, but if you knew him, I know you'll remember him. A tall western-type guy with a big smile and ready handshake, Hotch would enter a room and greet everybody in it by first name, everybody, seemingly, knowing him and being on friendly first-name terms with him.
Hotch became American Rental Association president in 1995, and in late 1994 I visited him at A-1's main store in Las Cruces. I spent the better part of two days with him including a drive up to his ranch in central New Mexico, a beautiful spot by the Rio Grande, built in the old New Mexico style. Hotch was at home on his ranch as he was in the boardroom of Citizens' Bank in Las Cruces, where he served on the bank's board and later, after retiring from rental, becoming the bank's chairman.
We also flew — with Hotch driving his Cessna and me sitting in the passenger's seat — from Las Cruces out to Silver City to see one of his branches. The mountains were magnificent from the air and Hotch handled the plane with the same ease with which he seemed to navigate life, with the same smile and kindness and attention to detail.
We drove around Las Cruces together and everywhere we went it seemed like everybody knew him and greeted him. Everybody knew him as Hotch, I can't imagine anybody calling him Mr. Manning, not because of lack of respect, but because that's simply the way Hotch was.
One of the reasons his rental business was successful was because of Hotch's personality and ability to make friends. It wasn't a calculated, developed skill, it was just what came naturally to him.
He served in a wide variety of community organizations. People got to know him, trust and respected him and so when they needed equipment, did business with him and continued to do so. If his company didn't offer proper equipment and service they wouldn't have continued to do business with him, but they did, because he was as committed to quality service as he was to personal cordiality.
I remember flying home after spending that time with Hotch and thinking he was really a role model; that he was somebody I would try to be like. Well, Hotch, I don't think I reached that goal, my friend. There was only one Hotch in this world, and I'm glad I got to know him.