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Goodbye, Columbus

SIGMA legal counsel honored for four decades of service to the petroleum industry
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SAN FRANCISCO -- For more than four decades, he’s been the entertainingly glib and reassuring presence at each and every SIGMA board and membership meeting, as well as the voice on everything legislation.

So when fuel marketers honored Tim Columbus as their Distinguished Statesman of the Year on Nov. 6 at SIGMA’s annual fall conference in San Francisco, the veteran partner at Washington, D.C.-based law firm Steptoe & Johnson flexed neither his colorful repertoire of adjectives nor his oratorical splendor. Rather, he was appreciative and humble, noting “people rarely say thank you to the lawyers.”

But Columbus is no ordinary lawyer. His legal counsel for SIGMA has crossed the halls of Congress and the backrooms of many independent fuel distributors, confronting environmental concerns, working with kindred trade associations such as the Petroleum Equipment Institute, the American Petroleum Institute and the NACS, and exhausting his energies for the betterment of the downstream fuel-supplier and distribution sectors.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” he told the hundreds of petroleum marketers at the conference. “When I started, I was the youngest person in the board room, and I had hair.”

Celebrating its 60th anniversary, SIGMA—the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America—remains a powerful presence, representing a membership base that distributes more than 50% of the nation’s petroleum retail market. For roughly two-thirds of its history, Columbus has been a mainstay, delivering compelling legislative updates on renewable (fuel) identification numbers (RINs), renewable fuel standards, underground storage tank regulations and a potpourri of pump talk.

SIGMA past-President Michael Kirshner introduced the award by citing a list of numbers, underscoring Columbus’ indomitable presence, both on the national landscape and helping individual members. Of course, some of the numbers should not necessarily be taken literally.

  • 563. The pounds Columbus has gained and lost over the past 40 years.
  • 387. Perhaps even more, said Kirshner, the number of individual calls Columbus has handled, with the typical member refrain being, “Tim, it’s me. I’ve got a problem or a question. … Can you help me?”
  • 3. the number of enthusiastic standing ovations he received Tuesday.
  • Uncountable. And the most important one, the number of friendships Columbus has made in the industry.

“I appreciate you,” Columbus concluded. “Thank you and God bless you.”

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