Today is a bittersweet day for Hammockites, as we bid a happy retirement to Bill Hudgins, a brilliant writer and editor and equally brilliant friend. After graduating from Columbia University in 1972 (get him to tell you a story about NYC in those days!), he honed his ability to file tight, smart stories on deadline at newspapers such as the Birmingham (Ala.) Post-Herald, Cleveland (Tenn.) Daily Banner and Nashville Banner. His next career turn was into public relations when Rex Hammock recruited him to join Buntin Public Relations, then a start-up subsidiary of the Buntin Group, a regional advertising and marketing firm.
Later, Rex recruited him again—this time to join Hammock Inc. (then called Hammock Publishing), almost 23 years ago. Bill has been managing editor of Road King, American Spirit, Ride PWC Magazine and H2U magazine, among others. Bill has lately been at the helm of Semper Fi magazine, for the Marine Corps League. An award-winning writer for a variety of industries—from trucking to healthcare to American history—Bill uses his insatiable curiosity and skill for a perfectly turned phrase to craft fascinating, well-told stories. (And if you know him, you know he’s always good for a groan-inducing pun. Around here, we’re used to stuff like, “Big rig carrying fruit crashes on freeway, creates jam.”)
We talked to Bill about the lessons he’s learned at Hammock, what he’s most proud of among the stacks of magazines and newsletters he’s helped manage and produce, and his plans post-retirement, which include a trip to Cuba to try out all the Spanish he’s acquired lately as an adult student at Volunteer State Community College. He’ll also still be schooling us in the art of early morning productivity, as he continues to wake up at 5 a.m. to work on his farm, feed his donkeys, and care for the horses brought to him by Volunteer Equine Advocates, a horse rescue mission that he and his wife, Wilda Dodson, actively support.
We’ll miss you, Bill, but you’ll always be our favorite editor emeritus!
What are some of the funniest or craziest moments you can remember at Hammock?
Some of the funniest and craziest are kinda hazy, and besides the participants are still among the living. There were plenty of crazy times when computer systems crashed on deadline, sometimes taking entire issues with them. But those were also times when we all lashed ourselves to the oars and pulled hard to make it on time. We never felt as close to each other as those times.
What issue or publication are you most proud to have worked on?
The trucker magazine we did, Road King, once had a feature on the Red Ball Express, the legendary truck convoy system set up in the frantic days after the breakthrough in Normandy after D-Day. I interviewed a number of the drivers from Cleveland—they were all African-American, had served in the same unit, and were justly proud of their accomplishments in a segregated Army. I still have my files on that story.
What are some of the lessons Hammock’s partners/clients have taught you?
I learned a hard lesson for me—that what we want a publication to be doesn’t always parallel what the client wants, and that while we should advise, at the end of the day our job is to produce what the client expects so well that we can all feel good about it. Also, learn from your mistakes, and move on. When dread about those mistakes wake you in the middle of the night, ask yourself if there’s anything you can do at the moment about them. If not, tell them to call you in the morning. That lesson only took 20 years. I also learned to treat the boss as a client.
An employer previous to Hammock used to say that there are three reasons to be in business: Do good work, make money and have fun. I’m proud of my work at Hammock, I was fairly compensated and had health-care benefits, and I had fun.
Earlier this month, we celebrated Bill’s retirement—and our appreciation for having the opportunity to work (and play) with him.
The printing and publishing industries have gone through a lot of negative changes the past few years, but what are some of the positive changes you’ve witnessed?
When I started working with Rex in 1987, we didn’t have the internet, though I think Compuserve and Prodigy came around. The two years between the time Rex formed Hammock and the time I joined in 1993, that was changing, but the place I was working at during that time, restricted access to all but a few. So coming to Hammock, where the early web was an essential work tool, was a quantum leap. The web has become a fact-miner’s El Dorado—now if we could only find some wisdom …
What are you most looking forward to in retirement?
Not commuting an hour each way every day. Downside—not seeing my Hammock family!
Who is your favorite editor? (Besides your colleagues, Jamie, Marci and Megan.)
William Shawn, late of The New Yorker.
Thanks for the memories!