17 JAN 2013: I am shocked and saddened to report that Bruce Bishins died yesterday morning - his 62 birthday. Bruce was a strong and passionate advocate for travel agents. He pulled no punches and regardless of any resistance, he made his case exactingly, rigorously, sometimes exasperatingly, and with no heed to the opposition.

Anyone who reads this publication regularly knows that I have, on occasion, taken issue rather strongly with Bruce, but we developed a respect and perhaps even an affection for each other, while agreeing to differ on some issues.

Our unlikely friendship began a couple of years ago after I had written some particularly critical articles about Bruce and the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) that he headed in Canada. He was annoyed at my 'take' on the situation, and did not hesitate to tell me so.

My reaction surprised him. It was an invitation to lunch.

It was understandable that Bruce was both cautious and curious. He wanted to know my intentions - was I going to 'ambush' him over a so-called social meal? Assured my intentions were 'honourable,' he agreed, and over a long lunch typically offered his unfettered opinions on a range of issues.

There were no ground rules, and only one stipulation, he would not reveal the number of members in ARTA. I had pounded him repeatedly on this question, but I knew going in that for whatever reason, ARTA’s bylaws apparently deemed this information confidential, and there was no purpose to my pushing it further at this stage.

During the course of lunch, Bruce, of his own volition, addressed the subject, and while he did not reveal the numbers, did tell me his (very valid) reasons for keeping them confidential.

By the end of lunch my impressions of Bruce Bishins, were not hugely unchanged from what they were going in. He was intelligent, articulate, opinionated, intense, and always on point. But I already knew all those things from TICO meetings and AGMs.

He appeared to be a workaholic, I wasn’t surprised at that, and he had a wry sense of humour - that was unexpected.

As we got to know each other, what did surprise me was the fact that I found I both liked and respected him, and enjoyed his takes on the industry that he would now occasionally share with me via email.

Bruce Bishins wanted to be an advocate for travel agents and also, though he did not articulate this, I believe he wanted to be a driving force within the industry.

I have over the years been approached by individuals and organizations who were willing and eager to pass along negative information on Bruce. Some business, some personal, usually offensive and derogatory.

Little if any of it (even if true) had any bearing on the impact Bruce did have on the industry. He was a watchdog for causes he believed in. He was resolute, tenacious, stubborn, a tireless worker and he could not be distracted from his path - as we learned at so many TICO AGMs - where he meticulously, insistently, pedantically, sometimes interminably - stayed on point, often to the irritation of other participants.

Like him or not, Bruce Bishins did have an influence on our industry. He was creative and technologically astute launching both Genesis GDS and FareSpider.

He made us more aware of the organizations that speak for us, more sensitive to issues, and he made us think before acting - or casting a vote.

His death leaves a void and I shall miss him.

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