WASHINGTON, D.C. — Longtime ASTA staff member Paul Ruden was
honored several times throughout the society’s global convention here this
week, prior to his retirement later this month.
Ruden, whose affiliation with ASTA began 36 years ago as
outside counsel, has been on the society’s staff for 25 years. He will continue
as an ASTA consultant after his Sept. 30 retirement, stepping down from his
role as executive vice president for legal and industry affairs.
During the ASTA Advocacy Dinner on Monday night, Ruden was
lauded as a tireless advocate for the travel industry. Between speeches, a
video from industry friends with kind remarks, and even a comment from the
night’s talent — actor, singer, dancer and choreographer Mark Evans, who said
he had never met Ruden but wanted to be his best friend after witnessing the
evening — it was clear that the attorney has left a legacy in the industry.
Ruden was presented with a Washington Nationals baseball
jersey, bearing his name and the number 25 — his cumulative years on ASTA’s
ASTA CEO Zane Kerby again brought Ruden into the spotlight
during the convention’s closing session, presenting him with an American flag
that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol in his honor.
“Honesty, integrity, world class advocate, humility — all
describe the essence of Paul,” Kerby said. “The stern visage of Paul Ruden has
been a comfort to ASTA’s allies and struck fear into our enemies for 25 years.”
After a laugh and applause from the audience, the video of
Ruden’s friends and colleagues remembering his time with ASTA was played again.
It included comments from Mark Pestronk, travel industry
lawyer and Travel Weekly columnist; Mike Premo, CEO of ARC; Jennifer
Wilson-Buttigieg of Valerie Wilson Travel; John I. Lovell of Breton Village
Travel Services (ASTA chairman from 2013-14); Cheryl Hudak of the Mark Travel
Corp. (ASTA CEO from 2006-08); Dave Schwarte, special counsel for Sabre; Sam
Podberesky of the Department of Transportation (retired); Jayson Westbury of
the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance; Bob Woodward of the Washington
Post, and Roger Block of Travel Leaders Franchise Group (current ASTA chairman).
“It seems I’ve lost my last argument — advising not to spend
time on me at this convention,” Ruden said. “I have to say, I’m deeply moved
and grateful for the attention I’ve received.”
Of everything he has been given in his life, he said, “the
greatest gift of all those was the opportunity to serve this industry, and you
who do so much good.”
Though he will serve in a limited capacity as ASTA’s
consultant, Ruden said he is confident ASTA members will remain in “good hands”
with the society’s current staff.
“I’m completely confident that this industry will not only
survive but prosper in doing what you do best, which is helping the people
experience each other in a way that changes, that improves the world for
everybody, that helps break down the level of intolerance that seems to be
sweeping the globe,” Ruden said. “We cannot continue as civilizations if we do
not understand that difference is not only acceptable, but it’s the best of all
things and the most interesting place to be.”