Photo by Sal Gutierrez

Jerry Hodge has been called quite a few things in his 80 years—some of them not so kind, but most of them flattering. What he had not been called before or since came in September 1991—“GU.”

It was a meeting in Baltimore. Hodge, as chairman and founder of Maxor National Pharmacy Services Corporation, had business on his mind. But across the table was Margaret Serio, a fairly new pharmaceutical representative. He started to get her on his mind perhaps even more than the business at hand.

It was not the best of days for Margaret. A promised pay raise had not come through earlier in the day. Now there was this guy from Texas being passive-aggressive toward her. He pushed his card across the table and asked if maybe they could have dinner the next time he was in Baltimore, which would be soon.

“I don’t date people I call on,” Margaret said.

But maybe this could be called a business arrangement with a meal attached, and that would be all right. So a short time later, Hodge arrived back in Baltimore for the planned dinnertime meeting with this pharmaceutical rep.

It was a hectic day for her. Margaret dropped off her daughter with friends at a skating rink, didn’t bother to change clothes and went straight to dinner with this semi-stranger. After she took a deep breath and settled in at the restaurant, lo and behold, she and Hodge had a nice conversation.

He was nice, nicer than she expected. He talked openly about his two failed marriages. Margaret couldn’t help notice his blue eyes, and complimented them, not in a flirty way, she insisted, but in an observing way.

“This is the first time in 17 years I’ve been on a date,” Hodge said.

“Wait a second,” Margaret said. “This is not a date. This is business. Besides, you are what I and my friends call ‘GU.’”

GU?

“‘Geographically Undesirable,’” she told him. “It will never work. You’re going to fall in love with me. You live in Texas. I live in Maryland. You’ll want to marry me and move to Texas, and I’m not moving to Texas.”

Hodge didn’t say anything. He just looked at her. Margaret then tried to put more water on the fire by saying that besides all that, she was seeing a doctor. Hodge didn’t have to know it was not really romantic, but just dinner dates.

“I just want to know how you’re going to tell that doctor that you’re seeing me,” Hodge said.

Not really knowing the person across the table, she did not expect that response. But inside, she laughed a little. She liked strong men, and she liked what he said.

Nearly three years later, Jerry Hodge and Margaret Serio were married on July 29, 1994. So much for GU. This East Coast woman was now ensconced in the Panhandle of Texas, and before too long, had also fallen for the Panhandle and the people her husband had loved all his life.

In a lifetime of accomplishments that may have been Hodge’s most impressive and most fulfilling.

Acknowledging His Influences

If there were a Mount Rushmore for Amarillo, if Hodge’s face weren’t one of four carved into the side of a mountain, he’d at least be in the photo of the finalists.

With the exception of college and pharmacy school, it’s the place he’s called home since moving from Oklahoma with his parents, Bob and Creda Arvona, in 1957. He fell in love with the city as a 14-year-old boy while driving a Cushman Eagle motorcycle down Polk Street. 

Cushman Eagles ceased in 1965, but Hodge and Amarillo have kept going strong.

He was a city commissioner and later Amarillo’s youngest-ever mayor. He’s a cowboy, trading the boardroom for his High Card Ranch whenever possible.

Most especially, he’s been a philanthropist for six decades, privately giving to small projects and causes and to political candidates, and publicly to major projects that changed the face of his hometown. 

He gave millions to help establish the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo as well as the nearby TTUHSC School of Pharmacy that bears his name. Then, of course, in keeping with his love of baseball, the former Tascosa Rebel catcher’s donation in 2019 earned him the naming rights of the city’s downtown Double A 6,400-set baseball palace, the home of the Sod Poodles. At the insistence of Sod Poodles general manager Tony Ensor, the name rolls off the tongue simply as Hodgetown.

“I’ve squeezed every ounce I could out of life,” Hodge says. “I’ve worked hard and played hard. I’ve had some successes and some failures. I probably got this from my mother. She taught me to never quit, never give up, that there’s always a way to work yourself out of any situation you’re in.”

The sun will never set on Hodge and work, but his professional life is at least in the twilight. He retired from Maxor in 2016, and pivoted to Hodge Management Group, LLC. His biggest fan urged him a few years ago to put his life between two book covers.

He, along with ghost writer Ben Masters and editor Les Simpson, former publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News, worked harder and longer than what they originally thought for You’re On, Cowboy! The book was officially released in April with a launch party at Hodgetown. Since then, he’s had a couple of public signings—one in Weatherford, Oklahoma, home of Southwestern Oklahoma State, his alma mater as an undergraduate and for pharmacy school, and another at Barnes & Noble bookstore in Amarillo.

“People aren’t going to tell me if they didn’t like it,” Hodge says, “but most of the feedback has been good. It’s interesting how people will say what part of the book that maybe they took something from.

“It varies greatly. Some of it was humor. Some of it was the sadness. Some of it was the integrity and honesty I learned from Floyd Overton, and some of it was the honesty about my failed marriages and other shortcomings.”

Before the work on the book began, he and Margaret discussed the big picture of the project. While writing as a biography was inevitable, that was not the sole purpose of You’re On, Cowboy!

“Jerry didn’t want this to be a biography,” Margaret says. “He just wanted to share some things in his life that had a profound effect on him and the people he met along the way. This is not so much a book about him, but the things that happened to him that were a guiding post and made a difference.”

Written in the first person, it’s a mix of honesty and humor. Hodge doesn’t soft-sell any controversy nor is he mean-spirited. It’s like riding in his truck for several hours and having him tell story after story.

“I didn’t want it to be varnished,” he says. “I just wanted to write something that people would want to read. I didn’t want to pull any punches, and I didn’t want to write about how great I am and what I’ve done or haven’t done. Everybody has ups and downs, tragedies and high points. Everyone has had people who’ve influenced them. I wanted to touch on that.”

The book begins with a story not many know—Hodge’s diagnosis of mantle cell lymphoma in 2003. He got the test results at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston the same day as the birth of a grandson, Josh. He got this advice from his physician:

“You need to make the most of your time, spend it with the people you love, and get your affairs in order.”

That will get anyone’s attention. Since that was 18 years ago, the lymphoma obviously wasn’t fatal, but to walk the edge of mortality at age 61 can cause a hard-driving businessman to count more blessings, hold on to the simple, appreciate those who’ve shown you the way, and take stock of the past and the present.

A 30-year partnership

Those who influenced Hodge started with his parents. His school teacher mother was strong-willed and didn’t suffer fools. She wanted a girl and Jerry was an only child. She often called him “Jerry Anne,” which her son thought would eventually fade. Instead, he was often “Jerry Anne” until her death.

There was Homer Wheeler, owner of Jack Bell Pharmacy and one of Hodge’s first bosses when he returned to Amarillo in the mid-1960s. Wheeler put Hodge in charge of collecting debts—“make them mad enough to pay you, but not mad enough to quit being a customer,” Hodge was told.

Wheeler gave Hodge some business lessons—avoid debt, pay bills on time, and invest 20 percent of your income. They also shared an occasional whiskey after hours.

There was Floyd Overton, an Amarillo butcher in his 70s. His wife was ill, and Overton would buy a week’s worth of prescriptions on credit, then pay it the next week because money was tight. He never failed to pay.

Overton died while owing Hodge for past drug bills for he and his wife. Hodge expected to eat the cost. Overton’s daughter later told him that her father put the house in Hodge’s name to clear the debts. A stunned Hodge couldn’t accept, but it was a lesson in character.

There are stories on the public Hodge, taking Maxor national, his time as mayor, the controversial “Ultimate Hunt” while on the Texas prison board that ended with Hodge being roasted on “Oprah,” and his rocky relationship with another famous Oklahoman-turned-Amarilloan, Boone Pickens.

Hodge tried to like Pickens, but failed. His chapter, “Boone, The Cranky Cowboy,” ends with the two meeting at a social function in Austin. Their paths hadn’t crossed in years.

“Boone, it’s been a while. Jerry Hodge,” Hodge said.

“Jerry Hodge, are you from Amarillo?” Pickens asked.

Hodge soon made his way back to Margaret, who asked him how it went. Hodge’s reply is best left to the book. But, in fairness, Hodge allowed mutual friend Mike Hughes to offer another side of Pickens.

“Several years ago, anytime we’d go anywhere, Jerry would start a conversation with ‘Let me tell you,’ in that Texas accent,” Margaret says. “We can drive and not talk for an hour and be happy and then he’ll say, ‘Lemme tell you.’ I thought that was going to be the title.”

Instead, You’re On, Cowboy! is a tip of the Stetson to the ranching life that’s such a part of Hodge right down to the High Card Ranch, his place near Clarendon that has long been a sanctuary from his business world.

There is much in the book on relationships—the searing pain of the tragic death of 20-year-old grandson Kody Hodge in 2017, his two failed marriages and meeting, dating and eventually marrying Margaret nearly 30 years ago.

“Incredible,” says Hodge of the partnership with his wife. “I owe a lot of my business success to Margaret. She’s been my companion, my best friend. She’s really held our family together. I tell our four kids that she loves you all equally even if there are three different mothers.”

Margaret Hodge lost out to geography roughly 30 years ago. Actually, geography didn’t stand a chance. Though it was an initial adjustment, she came to love the land that was a part of her husband’s makeup almost as much as her husband.

“Yes, it was hard,” she says. “Maryland is a beautiful state with trees and rivers and beauty. You’re never all that far from water. When I moved here, people were so nice it was almost uncomfortable. 

“I’d go into a store and someone would ask where I was from. I’d say, ‘Maryland.’ They’d say, ‘Welcome to Amarillo. Has anyone else welcomed you?’ It took time to get used to it, but I love, love, love Amarillo.

“I fly into Amarillo and there’s miles and miles of nothing, and it’s so beautiful to me. The world is crazy and hectic and you fly over this patchwork quilt and miles of open land and it’s beautiful. It’s like I take a deep breath and feel peace in my heart.”

She’s had a unique view and insight into one of Amarillo’s most successful businessmen and most generous philanthropists.

“Part of it is how he’s wired,” she says. “He just truly loves the business world. He loves to make it happen and make it successful. He does not give up. He’s relentless and loves the challenge. 

“A lot of it was what he was born with. God gave him a tremendous drive, a tremendous work ethic. It’s innate. It’s part of his genetic makeup. To him, it’s not work. It’s a joy. I never met anyone like him in my life. He can ruffle feathers and make people mad, and not say it how he should say it, but he’s an awesome man.” 

You’re On, Cowboy! Lessons Learned from Taking Risks, Taking Names and Knowing When to Fold. is available at amazon.com., and in stores at Barnes & Noble bookstore, Raffkind’s, Silverland and Purpose + Passion Boutique.

Author

  • Jon Mark worked at the Amarillo Globe-News from 1981 until his retirement in 2018. He spent 17 of those years as sports editor, and the last 12 as the newspaper’s general columnist. Beilue received 16 statewide and national awards for his work. He has written five books—two are collections of his columns, and the other three are on Amarillo lawyers Wales Madden and Robert Templeton, and Canyon girls basketball coach Joe Lombard. Beilue is a native of Groom and graduate of Texas Tech University. He and wife Sandy have two adult sons.