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Humberto Monterverde, founder of HM Distributors, former FPAA president, died

Humberto Jose (Bert) Monteverde Larriva, founder of Nogales, AZ-based H.M. Distributors Inc. and former chairman of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, passed away peacefully Dec. 9 after a battle with lung cancer, according to a brief biography of Mr. Monteverde furnished to The Produce News by his family.

Humberto Monteverde, founder of H.M. Distributors Inc. in Nogales, AZ, and former chairman of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

His sons, Rene and Bert A. Monteverde, both vice presidents in H.M. Distributors, will carry on with the business, which imports and markets an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in Mexico. Bert, who joined the company in 1993 after graduating from college, is director of sales. Rene, who is eight years younger and graduated eight years later, is general manager.

Mr. Monteverde was born in Mexico City, Mexico, Aug. 2, 1939. He grew up in the Nogales produce industry, initially helping his mother and aunt in their produce distribution business during his school years. Later, he worked for other companies before starting H.M. Distributors in 1982, and he remained president of the company until his death.

He served as a director of what was then the West Mexico Vegetable Distributors Association, now the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, from 1983 to 1987, as vice president of the organization from 1991 to 1992 and as its president -- a position corresponding to chairman in the current FPAA organization -- from 1993 to 1996, during which time the decision was made to change the name.

"He was here at a pivotal time" in the organization's history, current FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer told The Produce News Nov. 15. "He helped shepherd in" changes, including the name change, that "opened the door for the association to gather members" who were bringing in produce from Mexico through ports other than the port of Nogales.

Mr. Monteverde was "a giant in this industry," Mr. Jungmeyer said. "He was immensely respected in the community." He was known for his outgoing smile and for his passion for the industry, and he always "let you know how he felt."

Mr. Monteverde graduated from the University of Arizona in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He worked with the R.L. Furr Co. from 1963 to 1966, with AMEX Brokerage from 1967 to 1969, with Pueblo Distributing from 1970 to 1972 and with Rio Vista Limited, a division of Giumarra Bros of Los Angeles, from 1972 to 1982 before starting his own company.

H.M.'s principal grower, Agricola Paredes, which is owned by Sergio Paredes Verdugo -- from whose initials H.M.'s flagship "SPV" brand is derived -- is the same grower Mr. Monteverde had when the company first opened, according to his son Bert.

Both H.M. and the grower started small, and both have "grown mutually" over the years to where they are "a good size," he said. Both share "the same goals" and "the same school of thought."

Commenting on the legacy he received from his father with respect to the produce business, Bert Monteverde said, "First and foremost, he always kept in mind that we are importing [product] from Mexico" and always impressed upon his sons, "We are the visiting team" in the U.S. market. "We are not going to expect to have a home field advantage" and, therefore, "have to stay on top of things" and always "be over and above the minimum requirements" called for by government agencies.

To Mr. Monteverde, "the main thing was integrity," he continued. "His word was gold," and he always remembered and "encrusted in our minds" that the product they were selling "is not our product. It is the grower's. We've got to do the best for him."

Everything Mr. Monteverde did, he always "did things right" and did them "for the right reason, and he was really respected because of that," Bert Monteverde said. In that regard, he was "one of the original old school.

As the industry changed with regard to varieties and technology, "my dad ... always wanted to be ahead of the curve," Bert Monteverde continued. In addition, "he was very hands-on," an approach to business that he passed on to the next generation. "We know what is happening, we're on top of things. If there is an issue, you get the boss. That is all I know, because that is how I was taught."