Many people we meet during our careers begin as business associates and become good friends. Such was the case with two former PMA board members who passed away last year–Gene Booth and Ron Mazzola.
Gene served on one of the early PMA boards, and there was no job too big or too small for him to undertake. Whenever we needed someone for a project, Gene stepped in. He was the epitome of the PMA member at that time, a very small (one-book) publisher.
His background was in journalism, and he was always interested in the quality inside the book. After leaving the PMA board, he (like many other former board members) stayed actively involved in PMA projects and served as a judge for various categories of Benjamin Franklin Awards. His comments to the participants were always helpful, and the word that comes to mind most often when I remember Gene is encouragement. He and his wife, Dabney, adopted a child when Gene was first on the board, and his greatest desire was to see her grow into adulthood, which he was able to accomplish. I will always see his gentle smile and hear his great chuckle.
Without Ron Mazzola, there never would have been a Publishing University or a Benjamin Franklin Awards party. Years and years ago–when we were hoping our membership would reach 100–Ron called our office and said that his company, McNaughton & Gunn, would like to host a get-together for PMA to help us attract more publishers. So that year at the ABA (now BEA) Convention, which was in San Francisco, we rented the top floor of a hotel where many of us were staying. The room was huge. It was used as a dance studio during the day and had a magnificent view of the city, but it did have limitations–a single elevator to reach this location, only two bathrooms, and no kitchen or food preparation facility. No problem, we thought. How many would really show up to this party when so many other things were happening at the same time?
Attracting Our First Crowd
Ron went out and found the best caterers San Francisco had to offer. That was Ron. He always found and enjoyed the best. The caterers prepared lots of wonderful finger food and brought cases of wine. At 5 p.m., not knowing if anyone would come, I arrived at the hotel.
There was a line of people waiting in the lobby for the elevator to the roof. Still, I never imagined they were all coming to our party. When I got on the elevator and the only button pressed was Penthouse, I should have gotten a clue. As the doors of the elevator opened, I saw countless people munching and drinking away. The caterers were over in the corner discussing something with Ron. It turned out they were saying that they didn’t think they had enough food if people continued to crowd in at the same pace. I suggested they cut all the finger foods in half and see what happened. Well, we ran out of food, ran out of wine; the doors to the elevator kept on opening and disgorging throngs of people.
That year, the PMA booth giveaway was a case of California wine a day. I still had three cases downstairs in my room, which I delivered to the caterers after they ran out. Since two bathrooms weren’t doing the job, many of us who were staying at the hotel opened our rooms, and those bathrooms were put into use. No one minded the crowds, the lack of food or wine, or the trek to the bathrooms. At last independent publishers had a place to meet, chat, and share information with one another. And Ron was in his glory as our host. This event continues thanks to Ron and his company, its sole sponsors for many years.
When I talk to people about Ron, each of us has at least one special and funny story that we remember. One of mine is this. During a board meeting in Arizona, Ron, an avid and good golfer, insisted that Terry and I go golfing with him at the end of the board meeting. He wanted to have a real match of guys against girls. The only other female on the board at that time who had even held a golf club was Amy Mascillino, then of Quality Books. Her golf ability was a bit limited–to miniature golf–but Ron insisted she join us.
He said he and Terry would challenge Amy and me to a match on an 18-hole links course, with the stakes being our best ball against their worst ball. Amy came hobbling up to the tee in some weird shoes that didn’t fit, with rented clubs that were larger than any she had ever played with before (actually, she had never played with any club except a putter), but radiating determination to win. When Ron announced the bet, the starter, who was standing by the tee, looked at the determination in my eyes and Amy’s and said, “Gentlemen, I don’t think you’re going to fare well in this match.” He was right!
Ron, being the true gentleman he always was, paid up with a smile. That is the memory that’s etched into my mind forever, Ron’s incredible, toothy, genuine smile.
We will always miss both Ron and Gene, but we will always have the gifts they gave us, and I encourage everyone who attends this year’s Awards program or Publishing University to share their stories about these two great gentlemen with me and with each other.