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Back when I was editor of Dairy Field, and later Dairy Foods, the industry event I looked forward to most was Dairy Forum. Held annually on alternate coasts, the three-day conference is a gathering of the dairy industry's top movers and shakers -- pretty much everyone responsible for processing the nation's milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. I always relished the opportunity for education, networking and fellowship.
It was at my first Dairy Forum, in January 2004 in Boca Raton, Fla., that I met Tip Tipton, who was just stepping down as chief executive of the International Dairy Foods Association, a trade group he created nearly 15 years earlier through the alliance of the until-then separate milk, ice cream and cheese organizations. While typically it was at this venue that Dairy Field presented its Processor of the Year Award, this year we were honoring Tip by presenting him with a framed cover of the special tribute section we had published a month earlier to commemorate his long history of service to the industry. And I was to make the presentation, my first large-scale public exposure as a food trade editor, before the most important eyes in the industry. (That's me at left in the photo with Tip, along with the extra chins I thought I had finally seen the last of - alas, the internet is forever).
I remember Tip being truly touched and humbled by the honor, and he was most appreciative and gracious in chatting after the presentation and later during the conference. Impressed by his insights, the respect he commanded and his double-breasted suits, I always sought him out at future events for conversation. Later, after Tip started his post-IDFA consulting firm, he honored Dairy Field by contributing a regular column. And the honor was mine when, during a trip to visit the IDFA office in Washington, D.C., I was invited to a get-together at Tip and Connie's magnificent home, a restored 1902-vintage Beaux Arts edifice from whose front steps you can see the Capitol building down the street, with a covered porch that faces a life-size garden mural painted on the brick wall of the building across their exquisitely manicured patio.
When I moved on to cover the retail side of the food industry, I missed my regular chats with both Tip and Connie, and I was stunned and saddened to hear of Tip's passing this past weekend.
Grocers as well as manufacturers owe Tip a debt of gratitude for his lifetime of work to promote the marketing of dairy food products. Without Tip, there wouldn't have been a milk mustache campaign that brought some new life to a mature and historically flat category. And without Tip, the industry certainly would not be as organized and effective as it has become in taking on the challenges of a dynamic market with highly volatile commodity costs and fickle consumers.
Rest in peace, Tip.