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Fond Memories of the Man Who Built GMDC

October 3, 2014

A letter from the desk of Dave McConnell, President & CEO of GMDC:


On Saturday, September 20, 2014, Richard (Rick) Tilton GMDC’s beloved past President/CEO (1974 – 2000) passed away at his home in Tubac, Arizona with his wife Gail at his side.  Rick left a true legacy in this industry as he worked with the GMDC Board leadership to build an organization that still stands proud today.  Rick was laid to rest Friday, September 26 in Scottsdale, Arizona and on Sunday, September 28 family and friends gathered in Tubac to celebrate his life and raise a toast in his honor. 

Today I’d like to share a letter I wrote to Kevin Coupe of MorningNewsBeat immediately following his report of Rick’s passing just a few weeks ago.  Like many of you who knew him well, Rick greatly influenced my life and by sharing these thoughts I hope to spark a fond memory of a guy who truly knew how to enjoy life and made a big difference in so many of our lives!

Kevin, thanks so much for your announcement in today’s MorningNewsBeat regarding the passing of a true industry icon in GMDC’s retired President/CEO, Rick Tilton.  I thought I’d augment your comments with a few thoughts on Rick as a leader  and his impact on our industry.

Prior to  joining GMDC (formerly General Merchandise Distributors Council and today Global Market Development Center) as its top staff executive in 1974, Rick spent 15 years with the Consumer Products Division of Mead Corporation.  Rising to the role of Vice President Sales at the young age of 37 and an active member of GMDC, he was hired by the GMDC Board of Directors to turn around a four-year-old trade association that was floundering. 

Between his hire and his retirement on January 1, 2000, Rick more than turned the Association around by creating a business model that relied on highly productive annual conferences and a unique culture that fostered a real sense of belonging by the membership that translated into what many have called a “family”.  Since his passing Saturday many of his friends in the industry have dropped me notes pointing out the incredible impact he had on their lives.

For example, Sunday afternoon I received a note from Energizer Holdings’ Lou Martire in which he reflected on his first meeting with Rick by commenting, “I remember coming into Colorado Springs to meet Rick for the first time. It was my chance to sell myself onto the GMDC Associate board. We had dinner and I remember how taken I was with Rick and his executive presence. He was so smart, yet so warm and connecting. All the while he was measuring me as a person and did I fit with GMDC.”

And from Mike Sleeper, CEO/President of Imperial Distributors, “Rick was truly a gentleman in every way and I share your deep feelings of loss. Carol and I have such fond memories of our wonderful times together with both Rick and Gail.”

The personal connection with Rick that my wife Ann, I and our kids have had for nearly 35 years has impacted so many facets of our professional and personal lives.  Rick taught us to always look at challenges as opportunities, focus on finding a way to be a true servant leader, and at the end of the day focus on being the consummate family man … family always came first for him! 

Rick’s greatest legacy was his ability to connect people with different views, objectives and backgrounds and mold them into a cohesive, forward thinking board leadership group collaborating to move the GM/HBW business forward.  His legacy still lives on within the GMDC Board and  Staff structure as we daily strive to emulate the consensus building culture he ingrained within  a small trade association that has truly made a difference for the last 44 years.

His loss is so sad to all of us who knew him and most of all to his wife Gail, daughters Renee, Julie, Darcie and their families.  They have the sympathies of a large group of Rick Tilton fans who grieve his passing alongside of them. 

There will only be one Rick Tilton … a man with a huge heart and a huge passion for this industry.  Rest in peace my friend!

Some of Rick’s GMDC friends have inquired about the opportunity to make charitable donations in Rick’s name.  Gail and the family have asked that such donations be sent to:

Soulistic Hospice
P.O. Box 1990
Tubac, Arizona  85646