Death comes to everyone. We all learn this as children and we all know that sooner or later everybody dies. However, there are people we meet in the course of a lifetime whose life force seems so great you wonder if they ever will die, as if death would seem reluctant to take on such a vibrant soul.
Such a life force, to me, was Bill Grasse. The list of his accomplishments goes on and on and I won't go into all the details, many of which are mentioned in our obituary on page 16. Grasse's father, Palmer, was one of the rental industry's earliest pioneers, establishing Acme Rents back in the 1930s. The rental industry really developed after the war, when tools and equipment were hard to find and Acme was one of the industry's first major regional prosperous rental companies.
Bill eventually bought the company from his father, along with his siblings, Bob, Don and Peggy. He later sold the company to Ira Mendelsohn in the 1980s, and continued to play a major role as Acme's “goodwill ambassador,” advising Mendelsohn in operations and acquisitions. Acme would go on to become RSC, which of course is now one of the largest and most innovative rental companies in North America, and, in fact, the world. And although RSC has changed and evolved, when you get to know that company, it's not that surprising that the seeds of what later became RSC were planted by Grasse.
Grasse played a major role in the founding of RER as well. Jim Gartland, who founded the magazine, became friends with Grasse, who helped Gartland understand the dynamics of the industry and introduced him to many of its players. The very first issue of RER focused on Grasse's Acme Rents, and Grasse would write a column about maintenance tips for the magazine for 40 years.
But his writing was about much more than equipment. He also wrote about the people he met in the industry, around the United States and around the world. Bill loved to travel to different countries and meet other rental people and loved to host them when they visited the U.S. If you knew Bill at all, chances are you became his friend, and those of you who knew him understand why. He had a quick smile and he was interested in people and something about him always seemed to sense the good in people. He was as generous and giving a human being as you could ever meet. Former RER publisher Tim Novoselski said he was one of the greatest men he has ever known, in rental or any other area of life.
I remember when I started with RER, knowing next to nothing about the rental industry. He made a point to call me up and encourage me and spent time talking about the rental industry with me, helping me to understand it, often taking the time at trade shows to introduce me to people he respected. He taught me much without ever acting like he was “teaching.” He did it naturally, just by being human, by caring and being a friend. And I know many people reading these words are probably nodding their heads and remembering their own relationships with Grasse, a man whose heart was big enough to encompass many.
And there are funny stories about Bill that one hears, like the time in a hotel room when the alarm went off in the middle of the night — probably set by the previous hotel guest — and after several fumbling attempts to turn it off in the dark, Bill reportedly pulled a pair of scissors out of his briefcase and cut the electric cord. I can just picture that one!
Bill suffered from pancreatic cancer in recent years. I heard, from family members, that he didn't really want to talk about it, didn't really want people to know or worry about him. That also was typical of Bill.
In the end, of course, death won, as it must with everyone. He lived to be 90, his sheer life force inevitably lasting longer than most people. I'll remember him, not by his resume or his list of achievements, but by who he was — by his knowledge, by the look in his eye, by his handshake, by his kindness. By Ellie and Jim and Larry and Ron and the other fine people in his family who will carry on his name. And, yes, by him cutting the alarm clock cord in the middle of the night. I'll remember that one on difficult days when I need a laugh.