After 10 years, I still have the note.

I had recently sold a company I started, Weissmann Reports, to the owners of Travel Weekly and had agreed to stay onboard for a couple more years.

I maintained subscriptions to all the trade publications. When my subscription to Travel Trade was up for renewal a few months after the sale, I filled out the renewal card and sent it in with a check for $10.

It returned to me a week later in a hand-addressed envelope, a note paper-clipped to it from Travel Trade's editor and publisher, Joel Abels: "Sorry. You're with the enemy now."

I had known Joel for about 10 years at that point, and I had to chuckle. It was classic Joel.

Joel Abels -- champion of retail travel agents, innovative publisher, shrewd businessman, award-winning columnist -- died on Jan. 25, and the industry is much poorer for his passing.

The importance of relationships in building businesses has been appreciated for as long as there has been commerce, but Joel understood that importance in ways that few others ever do. He understood that it meant more than glad-handing, more than repeating back to a customer what the customer wants to hear, more than simply trying to keep everyone happy. He understood relationships in the full dimension of that word.

Joel wrote for his audience of travel agent readers in a way that let them know he clearly understood their businesses and what was important to them.

He understood suppliers equally well. I recall once when, before I sold my company, I had taken a booth at a Travel Trade Cruise-a-Thon and, during a lull in traffic, Joel came over to talk. We surveyed the room. Virtually every cruise line had a very large stand, and a number of associations and consortia had a significant presence.

"Look around," Joel said. "Everyone here, everyone, built their business with my help."

He was also trying to sell me advertising at the time, and I took the pitch to be somewhat hyperbolic. It would be some time before I understood that what he said was not an exaggeration.

I think the truth finally hit home when I saw Joel take a seat in the front row at the christening of the Queen Mary 2, alongside Carnival Corp. Chairman Micky Arison, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. (I believe it was the front row. It was hard to tell for sure from up in the nosebleed section where I and the other trade journalists sat.)

I understood it when cruise line executives would tell me about creative deals Joel had put together for them.

I understood it this past week when Joel's passing seemed to be the sole topic of conversation in the industry. There was a void, and people comforted themselves by talking about what was suddenly missing.

Most in the industry knew Joel from the perspective of a reader or advertiser; I knew him from both perspectives, and additionally as a competitor.

He was the best type of competitor, one from whom you can learn. I understood that his return of my check was first and foremost a statement of loyalty to his publication

Weissmann Reports' director of sales, unaware of Joel's earlier note, later that year tried to take a booth at Cruise-a-Thon. He, too, was told by Joel that our money was no longer welcome.

The line between principle and hard-headedness is a thin one. It's easy to stand on principle when only $10 is at stake, but the refusal of a fee from a legitimate vendor for a trade show booth may be unprecedented in this industry. For Joel, it was a matter of integrity, and I respected that.

Joel's devotion to his publication seemed limitless. When I say "publication," I really mean his readers and advertisers. People who knew him well have told me that he and his wife, Lenore, had opportunities to sell Travel Trade on a few occasions, but it's apparent to anyone who has read that publication that Joel's very life was defined by his relationships to his family, his readers, his industry friends and, of course, his cats.

I suspect that Joel Abels would not have been whole without Travel Trade.

And I know that the industry is now incomplete without Joel Abels.

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