We rush each day to report on the events of the industry that may make a difference to people working in the trade. But when a story hits so close to home it is difficult to report it as news, as something sensational, something to be sold. That is the case this week when many of us lost a friend, a man that touched so many people in so many ways.

Bob Bell, Jr., the owner of Hickory Brands, Inc., and his wife Andrea, were killed Sunday in a plane crash that occurred as the couple was taking off from Hilton Head airport enroute to Myrtle Beach. Crash investigators said it will take months to try to find a cause for the crash of the single-engine turbo prop Piper Malibu.

For those of you that knew Bob, his zest for life extended to his passion for flying.

I remember visiting Bob in Hickory a while back and we spent little time in the offices at Hickory Brands. Instead, he wanted to show me his town, the small town of Hickory, where everyone seemed to know him by name and yelled, “Hey Bob Bell”, whenever he walked passed them on the street. I found that Bob was greeted the same in the bank as he was in the barbeque joint across the street. People stopped him in the crosswalk to say, “hey”.

While he was proud to show off his town, he couldn’t wait to get up to the airport to show me his pride and joy, his plane. He flew everywhere he could and with anyone that would go with him. Sales managers and reps have more than few stories of the unique plumbing facilities on the six-seater, that reminded me more of fraternity road trips than luxury business aircraft.

Nissan Joseph, president of Hickory Brands, said that people loved Bob because he treated everyone the same. “He respected you for being a human being”, said Joseph.

That was evident at the receiving line on Tuesday night at the Funeral Home in Hickory. The line was scheduled to run from 7pm until 8:30pm, but had to be extended until 11:30pm that night.

Mr. Joseph said that he was stunned by the outpouring of emotion of friends, suppliers, customers and even competitors. Bob was friend to all.

As for the business, Joseph said that the management team is “committed and focused on the business” even as the tragic events of the weekend will be a challenge for all those involved in the business.

Bob and Andrea are survived by son Robbie, age 34, and daughter Ginger, age 30, and two grandchildren.
Mr. Bell’s father and both of Mrs. Bell’s parents also survive the couple.