Gerald Earl (‘Jerry’) Manning (1936–2003)
Pala International mourns the loss of distinguished
gemologist Jerry Manning, who passed away February 24 of
ALS at the age of 67. Jerry Manning was a beloved member of the gemstone
business for 20 years.
Born in Iowa, Manning was destined to join his father’s business, a pattern shop for heavy industrial machinery. He studied engineering at Iowa State University, but switched to geology. That was followed by a master’s degree in geochemistry from the Colorado School of Mines. After working for Armco Steel as a research chemist for 22 years, Jerry decided to pursue his passion for geology. He started a small business called Mid Continental Minerals, selling minerals and crystals and amassing a large private collection.
Jerry took a gamble in 1983 and sold his collection to raise money for his first buying trip to Brazil. By 1985 MCM was turning a healthy profit by specializing in tourmaline when prices were low and the market was beginning to catch fire. One of his best-known achievements was that his associates on the tradeshow circuit unofficially dubbed him the tourmaline king. Another achievement was pinning the name “peacock blue” on the brilliantly colored blue tourmaline.
Earlier in his career, Jerry enjoyed visiting
the mines and braving the dangerous conditions in the sometimes lawless,
remote reaches of the Brazilian territories. He was fascinated with
and most happy crawling through caves looking for the “source” in
a region that he equated to the “wild, wild West.” Later
on he decided it was much easier and more profitable to have an office
in Teofilo Otoni and Gov. Valadares and let the dealers bring him
their faceted stones. There, he would pick from the best of the best
and export them to the United States.
Jerry Manning is survived by his wife, Peggy, his two sons, Jeff and Todd, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Jerry leaves behind numerous friends and associates in the gemstone business that will miss him dearly.
Challenge of a Lifetime
MCM Gems’ Jerry Manning is no stranger to risk.
By Marlene Prost
(reprinted with permission from Colored Stone, Sept.–Oct. 2001)
Jerry Manning has never shied away from a challenge.
When he was laid off from work at the age of 48, he left the security of the corporate world to expand his own modest business, MCM Gems in Middletown, Ohio. In the spring of 1983, he sold his personal mineral collection to pay for his first buying trip to Brazil. Since then, he has been back many times, winning the trust of buyers and competitors.
Seeing the potential market for tourmaline in the mid-1980’s, he decided to specialize in the beautiful stone, winning the industry’s unofficial title of “Mr. Tourmaline.”
Today, Manning, 65, is involved in the greatest challenge of his life. Stricken three years ago with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Manning is now selling MCM Gems to Roland Simonsson of Guttenberg, Sweden, while he and his wife, Peg, make the most of his retirement.
In a notoriously competitive industry, Jerry Manning has always made good friends among his business rivals, whether across the desk in a Brazilian office or across the aisle at a Tucson trade show.
“He’s a hell of a character. He’s very humble, and a very happy person,” said Sergio DeCastro of Seta Import/Export Emporium in Atlanta. “Everything about him is calm, relaxed, and very professional. He’s a very serious businessman, and very knowledgeable about his business, and very successful.”
“He was real good to me, a young guy starting in the business. We were competitors, and he always pointed me in the right direction. He was always pointed me in the right direction. He was always very helpful, him and his wife,” said Scott Spurling of Imperial Gemstones Ltd., Waltham, Massachusetts.
Born in Iowa, Manning was destined to join his father’s business, a pattern shop for heavy industrial machinery. He studied engineering at Iowa State University, but switched to geology. That was followed by a master’s degree in geochemistry from the Colorado School of Mines. He went to work in 1962 for Armco Steel Corp. in Ohio as a chemist and remained there for 22 years. But he still had a passion for geology, and he started a small “hobby business” called Mid-Continent Minerals, selling minerals and crystals and amassing a nice private collection.
Manning took a big gamble in 1983 and sold most of his specimens to raise $12,000 for his first gemstone buying trip to Brazil. “A lot of things in life are a gamble,” he says. “You figure out what your skills are and go where the skills are. We faced several gambles like that. I was confident.”
It was one of the best decisions of his life, because in the fall of 1984, Manning was laid off from Armco. The layoff forced him to take his second big gamble. He decided to leave the corporate world and expand his promising hobby business. He also was too proud to stand in line at the unemployment office. So while Peg stretched his severance package to put an “umbrella” over their two sons’ heads, he concentrated on the newly-named MCM Gems, now a wholesale gemstone business.
By 1985, MCM was turning a healthy profit. Manning also started specializing in tourmaline at a time when prices were low and the market was starting to catch fire. His best-known achievement was developing a market for the brilliantly colored “peacock blue tourmaline.” Today, he’s probably the biggest supplier of large single tourmalines in the country, says good friend Michael Couch of Michael Couch & Associates in Des Moines, Iowa.
Peg has been instrumental in the business, managing the books and computer and most of the sales at the trade shows.
“I’m thing-oriented. She’s people-oriented. It’s a great combination of skills,” says Manning. “I’d be working with a customer and a thought in my mind would take over my consciousness, and she’d walk right in so the person is not aware I’d abandoned them.”
Over 15 years, Manning made between 45 and 50 trips to Brazil, where he worked with shady characters on both sides of the law. “A couple of my acquaintances that were essentially U.S. expatriates were presumably DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] undercover people. They got involved with taking people to jail.” He made sure to stay clear of drug trafficking, though. “I was there to make a living, to buy stones… I didn’t want to worry about spending time in jail because I was related to someone in the drug trade.”
In a cutthroat market, Manning was known for his integrity. “I’ve seen him make $10,000 deals with a handshake. He would buy gemstones in the understanding he would pay in two weeks. It was very unusual. In spite of the fact it was strictly cash only, dealers would take Jerry’s word, said Couch, who calls Manning his mentor.
Both competitors and customers agree Jerry and Peg Manning have proved that nice guys can succeed in business.
“For a sole proprietor, he has built one of the nicest businesses I’ve seen,” said Jane Perham of Perham’s of West Paris, Maine. “Beginning a business is challenging. Jerry has such a nice way about him. He spent so much time getting acquainted and learning what their customers a?? He’s unassuming. He has a tremendous amount of honor and integrity.”