While it is that time of the year to celebrate the latest recipient of the prestigious Tire Business Humanitarian Medal — this year's deserving honoree is Robert H. Dunlap, chairman and CEO of family-owned Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc., it is also time to remember two previous recipients who died within days of each other.
On Sept. 15, the tire industry lost a great one when Douglas Anthony Blackman, founder of Cary, N.C.-based Atlantic Tire & Service, died.
Anthony Blackman, as he was known, received the Tire Business Humanitarian medal in 2015, along with his wife Beth, for the charitable endeavors their dealership did in and around the community.
Just five days later, North America lost another incredible philanthropist when Rodrigo Valle Hernandez of Tijuana, Mexico-based Grupo Tersa, lost his long battle with brain cancer.
Rodrigo was named the 2020 Humanitarian. Due to the worldwide shutdown amid COVID-19, he was honored virtually, and his medal was mailed to him.
Both men, coincidentally, were 69.
I did meet Anthony several times at Tire Industry Association events, but outside of exchanging a few pleasantries, the only way I knew him is through reading about his charitable nature.
The Blackmans have supported an array of organizations, such as The Salvation Army, Children's Home Society, The Caring Place, Miracle League, MacGregor Rotary Club, the Atlantic Tire Tennis Championship, Cary Chamber of Commerce and several charitable golf tournaments.
Anthony told our reporter that his parents instilled his love of giving.
"A lot of it was just being brought up believing that if you had something you need to share it," he said. "… It's the coolest thing to think that you could affect somebody's life and never know about it, and that's OK. I just wish all businesses would be a little bit more receptive to doing that."
It's fitting that two years ago, Blackman received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from the governor of North Carolina.
It is awarded to those who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.
Because of the pandemic, I never got the opportunity to meet Rodrigo in person.
But, during the hours I spent interviewing him for the series of stories, I felt I got to know him as much as anyone I've profiled in my career.
The man exuded humility, passion, empathy and intelligence. And each of those traits catapulted him and his company into the legacy of philanthropy.
Giving was such a priority to Rodrigo that a few years after his cancer diagnosis, he established the Valle-Bibb Foundation, whose mission is to support various social causes that affect his community, "thereby fulfilling the part of social responsibility to which all companies are morally obliged," according to the group's mission statement.
Rodrigo's wife, Denisse Carolina Bibb Miranda, serves as president of the foundation.
"When we reflect on the life and work of Rodrigo Valle Hernández, we cannot help but feel deep admiration and gratitude," the foundation told Tire Business. "His legacy goes beyond numbers, successful businesses and accumulated wealth. His true legacy lies in the ability to combine business acumen with a genuine desire to do good."
According to the foundation, Rodrigo asked his family to continue its commitment and responsibility to help those less fortunate. Funds are dispersed among three core areas: health, education and social orientation.
Since 2014, when the foundation was organized, more than $4 million has been donated to more than 20 foundations in Tijuana that support these programs.
The foundation said it is "a testament to his passion for helping others. Through it, hundreds of lives have been touched, transformed and enriched. Whether providing educational opportunities, supporting health projects or alleviating human suffering in critical situations, his commitment to the well-being of others was always evident."
In the time since Rodrigo was named the Tire Business Humanitarian, the Valle-Bibb Foundation raised more than $100,000 to support Rodrigo's alma mater, CETYS University in Tijuana, in part to support the maintenance of the school's gymnasium/auditorium, which was built a decade earlier because of Rodrigo's $1 million commitment to the project.
The foundation also supported a virtual concert by Cuban artist Francisco Cespedes, funding groups that support marginalized schools in Tijuana by providing a path to music and art rather than one filled with violence or drugs.
The Valle-Bibb Foundation continues to support another group that provides medical and emotional support to children with cancer during the last stages of life.
Rodrigo's death didn't end his dealership's commitment to philanthropy; it only emboldened it.
"Although our beloved founder, Rodrigo Valle, has left this world, his legacy and vision remain more alive than ever," the foundation said.
"The foundation he created not only still stands, but has gained even more strength and determination. With a firm purpose in our hearts, we embark on larger and more ambitious fundraising campaigns, with the goal of extending our helping hand to those who need it most."
The foundation said it realizes the world needs change, and it is committed to being flexible, seeking the best ways to serve a new generation and diversifying its sources of support to ensure help reaches those who need it.
"The departure of our founder is not goodbye, but a renewed commitment. And with that spirit, we continue forward, determined to make the world a better community."
What defines Rodrigo — and countless other tire dealers across America — not only is his commitment to the less fortunate, but also to those who work for him and with him. That is a recurring theme of Humanitarian honorees; check out what employees say about this year's recipient, Bob Dunlap.
"Rodrigo's true legacy is not found in the spaces or recognitions that bear his name or in the companies he founded, but in the hearts of those he benefited with his kindness and vision," the foundation said. "He leaves us a path outlined, an invitation to combine ambition with empathy, success with generosity.
"In short, he leaves us the legacy of an altruistic giant, a model to follow for future generations."