The news came as little surprise this week as Paul Hitch, a Guymon, OK rancher, cattle feeder and farmer, announced he would step down from his position as president-elect of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

It was a decision he'd been pondering for some time, and it was a decision he didn't reach quickly or easily. But in the end, he felt it would be unfair to both NCBA and his family to assume the presidency this February. Hitch has cancer and is in the fight of his life.

For those who know Paul, the fact that he based his decision partly on what's best for NCBA is also no surprise. Throughout his leadership positions with NCBA, one characteristic came through time and again -- his ability to put his own personal interests aside and work with and for all cattlemen to achieve what's best for the industry as a whole.

He served as chairman of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and in various leadership capacities within NCBA, including chairman of the Live Cattle Marketing Committee at a time when a number of contentious issues were being debated. That experience resulted in tremendous personal growth for Paul and allowed him to develop an ability that will be missed in NCBA.

"It was a lightning-rod committee," he told me recently. "All these emotionally charged issues came to a head in live-cattle marketing. And I somehow managed to adjudicate that and get meetings started on time and pretty much ended on time and get decisions made. And at the end of it, nobody really hated me. We all finished and agreed we were still friends, even though not everybody got what they wanted. But if you didn't get what you wanted, at least you felt like you had an honest hearing."

Hitch prides himself on that -- being an honest broker and giving everyone a chance to be heard. "My agenda (as committee chairman) was to further the interests of cattlemen and NCBA. Now sometimes I had an ax to grind, but I tried very hard not to grind it."

With his decision, he can now focus on the two most important things in his immediate future -- spending as much time as possible with his wife, Linda, his two sons who are now a part of Hitch Enterprises, and his grandson. And fighting his illness so he has as many days as possible ahead of him to savor that precious, blessed time with his family.

Under NCBA bylaws, the association's vice president, Andy Grosetta, a rancher from Cottonwood, AZ, moves into the president-elect position. Grosetta will succeed John Queen as NCBA president at the upcoming annual meeting in Reno, NV in February.