Sorry, Charlie Horton, but it’s a convenient way to say farewell.
Thirty-four years ago last May I
was hired into this industry by Plumbing &
Mechanical and Supply House
Charlie Horton. He
passed away in 1989, so it’s unfortunate that only old-timers remember him and
the profound influence he had on the industry that he loved and defended with
the ferocity of a Samurai warrior. Two things in particular I remember learning
from him have stayed with me throughout my career.
Being chewed out by Charlie was a rite of passage for all of his employees, and
it didn’t take long for me to gain the experience. He read one of my early
articles and got peeved at seeing too many fancy words that served no purpose
other than to show off my vocabulary. So he called me into his office and told
me something that has been imbedded in my brain ever since: “Remember this -
you are not part of the publishing industry, you’re part of the plumbing
industry. Don’t write over your readers’ heads.”
So I’ve spent the last 34 years trying to suppress my highfaluting
A second lesson I learned from Charlie was that a publication needs to focus on
its audience and their issues, not self-absorption. He took a dim view of the
tendency of certain editors and publishers to devote magazine space to articles
patting themselves on the back or making sales pitches to advertisers.
This is not to say Charlie was above self-promotion. He wrote scintillating
promotional letters to advertisers about upcoming issues, and composed some of
the most provocative promotional copy ever written in the months leading up to
the launch of Plumbing & Mechanical in March 1984. I’ve saved some of those
masterpieces, especially those touting me as a superstar while introducing me
as the new publication’s editor. I only hope I’ve proven to be half as good as
he hyped I would be.
However, the marketing stuff was all in the background, snail-mailed in those
days to prospective advertisers. None of it clogged up the pages of his
flagship Supply House Times,
whose content remained focused on the interests of its
That policy, too, is something I’ve always abided by. Until now. Forgive me,
Charlie, but just this once I’m going to violate a cardinal rule of yours by
making myself the subject of this article.
That’s only because I can’t think of a better way to reach so many industry
friends with the news that I am taking leave of my positions with BNP Media Co.
and this magazine. It is an amicable departure driven by personal as well as
At age 64 it has finally dawned on me that my career as a wordsmith has been a
means rather than an end. Time has come to cash in some of the equity I’ve
built up over the years, both financial and interpersonal, to pursue my true
callings. Ranking highest among them is being a fully engaged grandfather to my
three impossibly charming granddaughters. Aging brings with it an awareness of
how fleeting is the window of time in which to enjoy watching them grow up and
to be a positive influence in their lives.
This is not to say I’m “retiring” in the strict sense of the word. You’ll
likely see me pop up from time to time writing articles or working on various
projects for industry friends. It’s just that I look forward to choosing
assignments out of preference rather than duty.
It’s been said that if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in
your life. That’s certainly been true of my career. Things got less enjoyable
during this miserable recession of the past three years, but not enough to
erase so many joyful memories of serving this great industry and befriending so
many of its magnificent citizens.
I want to thank scores of past and present colleagues whose friendship,
guidance and assistance over the years has made my job seem more like fun than
work. And, a special word of thanks is owed to the present stewards of this
magazine for being gracious enough to grant me this space to say
One final piece of advice for them - don’t make a habit of it. Violate Charlie
Horton’s cardinal rule no more than once a career. Now return to the interests
of your audience - and don’t write over their heads.
Anyone who wishes to contact me can do so from now on at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why I'm Violating A Cardinal Rule
September 1, 2011