BrooksLooks@ The Gift of Goodbye

January 2013

At that moment, it never quite sinks in. Perhaps only later are we able to understand the magnitude of the gifts we’ve received, as a door closes and a chapter of our lives abruptly ends. Little do we know that our lives are only beginning anew.. The next chapter is already being written. In time, one chapter morphs into another…and then one day, yet another, in the grand pattern of our unfolding lives.
“Ride the wave” is a common refrain among today’s wayfaring professionals. It is the case today of so many lives on the move. I’m think of those of us in hospitality leadership roles. Invariably, we leave what we know to advance our careers accepting a new position in a new community far away. In spite of seeking long-term commitments and a place we can call home for a while, employers change, owners die and the boss we loved decides to leave.
We anticipate a long-term commitment and a new community we can call home for a time. Instead, recessions occur, someone changes their mind, and the boss who’s hired us decides to move on. “Living forward” is important, we tell ourselves, knowing that with each new move there is always an inherent cost to our friendships, our families and even our psyches.
Occasionally we allow ourselves a furtive backward glance, before the current of life snaps our focus back forward again. Such is the case for me, when my time in the Berkshires came to a close, after calling this beautiful part of the world my home for over twenty years. “Twenty years!?” the recruiters would say incredulously, shocked that a tenure of such duration could actually happen in this day and age of shattered loyalty between employer and employee.
My career began and blossomed in New England. My family was raised here, I felt great pride, knew real pain and sorrow and at last, then I truly fell in love here and felt great joy. I lived here! I came to love those Berkshire hills and peaks, ponds and people and the generally agreeable tapestry of life woven here. As I passed two decades of living in the Berkshires even local writer Milton Bass referred to me as a ‘local kid making good’ in one of his columns. He doesn’t know it, but it was as close as I’ve ever been to being thought of as a ‘local’.
The Berkshire Hills are far away now, so many memories receding in the rear-view mirror. It was magical time to be a part of the Berkshire scene, an honor to be included among those residents and visitors for so long. It was an experience that has continued to age and mellow in my mind. Celebrations of hard work and accomplishment still resonate. So many friendly Berkshire faces still pop into my mind, moments I remember and the times our paths crossed. My time there was cocoon-like, as though a nurturing incubator prepared me for what was to come. When it was time to leave, it felt as though I were moving on, a graduation–bringing with it both excitement and some uncertainty along with the good wishes of so many.
Over the years, I had the rare privilege of earning my way up from an entry-level job to become The Red Lion Inn’s general manager, all in one very special place–Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Much was expected, much was given and much was gained there. I thank the Fitzpatricks for the wealth of opportunities they provided me, and for seeing some real potential in me. “Everything is Important” is the pearl of wisdom that has remained meaningful and relevent to me all these years. Thank you, Jane Fitzpatrick, for believing in me and for your nurturing and inspiration.
It was time to move on from Stockbridge. Real lessons of life were only just beginning, as I eventually accepted the gift of goodbye. Then, a private club in New Haven, Connecticut needed rescuing. Years prior, legislation passed eliminating the deduction of membership and two-martini lunches from one’s taxes. Private Clubs began to founder, and in this denouement, I entered the world of private luxury clubs for the first time–bringing a Fitzpatrick style of hospitality to a struggling city club.
Participation was paramount to my Berkshire experience, and I worked to introduce this private, largely male bastion to prospective new members and to a community generally unaware of the high-level, private conversations that transpired within its walls. There were difficult moments here including struggling to make the payroll each week, renovating unused guest rooms, even issuing bonds among members to replace the club’s ancient infrastructure.
I encountered genuine malfeasance among the club’s former managers and worked to move them all along–building a new team in the process. I also discovered an employee shooting-up heroin in a rest room there; guests who’s vehicles were stolen from the street during club events; employee thefts; panhandlers and street crime. Oh my. I had truly been thrust from Norman Rockwell’s world into a new one.
In spite of these occasional challenges, I enjoyed this urban experience, the amazing people I met and the real sense of community that flourished in New Haven.
New opportunity knocked, this time a call from Wisconsin. The Kohler Company needed a manager for their luxe private club known as Riverbend. A little hospitality and club experience made the difference. It was time to say goodbye to the Connecticut shoreline. Susan and I found ourselves looking at a map to pinpoint exactly where Wisconsin was, then making our intrepid move to the city of Sheboygan along the shores of Lake Michigan. Riverbend members were very gracious captains of Midwest industry, and they paid an initiation fee of at $75,000 or more for the privilege being a member.
This was a big company experience, a very successful organization that remains independently owned by the descendents of the original founding family. At Kohler, many things came into focus as personalities and performances were probed and analyzed through psychometrics and the assessment of such tests as Caliper, Myers Briggs, Wonderlic and FIRO-B testing. This was also a wonderful introduction to the Midwest perspective. Go green and gold! I still think of your kind people, and artisanal cheeses. And Leinenkugel’s. I discovered an incredible work ethic here in Wisconsin and among my talented team of employees. It is unrivalled anywhere.
Opportunity then came knocking, this time from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It was time to say goodbye to Kohler. A mysterious and reclusive billionaire was creating his first U.S. sanctuary in southern Appalachia. Meetings were held in Paris and Geneva and I was given the privilege and responsibility of opening a $40 million luxury Lodge and Spa atop a 12,000 acre Blue Ridge setting, in one of Virginia’s most rural and beautiful counties. It was my second such hotel opening, and a wonderful challenge.
Susan and I found genuinely interesting and sophisticated people in southern Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We also discovered a breadth of new experiences in this unspoiled setting. Locally made moonshine appeared one day on my desk as a different kind of welcome gift–the real deal. Wild ginseng still grows on the mountain sides there, and mountain lions prowl the ridges. Hunting and fishing are a life-style–more necessity than sport. Music, sweet, joyful Blue Grass, was a gift passed on down to each new generation. No one ever played with sheet music either. We felt we were listening to the roots of American music in Floyd, Virginia.
Resilience, adaptability and ‘making-do’ all come to mind when I think of the great people of Patrick County, Virginia.
It took two years to build and open the lodge and spa as it opened in August of 2010 to a planned five diamond standard. Upon the death of the owner, his eight children were instantly thrust into key decision-making roles. Standards changed. Directions changed. My contract was over and it was time to say goodbye.
No sooner had the words left Susan’s mouth that she was “ready for adventure,” then the call came about a guest ranch in southeastern Arizona. The owner needed a manager, and the ranch needed some attention to detail. Out came the atlas and off we went! We can now say we have lived the real southwest experience, there in the true wild west dreams of our childhood. Think Johnny Ringo, horses, barbed wire, water rights and silver mining. The very real town of Tombstone, Arizona was nearby and the old copper mining town of Bisbee well worth a visit.
Here, the Chiricahua Mountains in the extreme southern Rockies, was the ancestral land of the Chokonen Apache. Cochise and Geronimo walked these very trails, defending their ancestral homeland. The last Native American holdouts battled valiantly against America’s military until they were forcibly removed. We have found real strength of character here among the people of southern Arizona, along with profound quietness and a rare proximity to nature’s extraordinary diversity in what are known as ‘Sky Islands.’ Precious little remained of the Apache culture, except for shards of pottery found on our hikes. Here, I also removed my share of rattlesnakes and tarantulas from guest areas. Our guests were generally appreciative and we survived too.
Since living in the Berkshires, we’ve bought and sold six homes and lived in nine different states. We ‘let go of the proverbial rock at the bottom of the river’ allowing the current of life to take us higher and farther. We’ve had the privilege of living in very special pristine places beyond where the pavement ends, where the air is still sweet and clean and infinite stars sparkle in dark skies.
Addenda to be added:
Leaving Arizona, hello Great Smokies
Home at last, Colorado
Southern Utah
Oregon Colorado Maryland
There are things and people we miss about each place we’ve lived, with plenty of pleasant memories all piled up. We are grateful for the gift of goodbye and the rich experiences that life has brought us since our time in the Berkshires out on the road to adventure in hospitality.Thanks for reading this unfinished tome, for checking in from time to time and following along.

Brooks and Susan Bradbury