Forty some years ago an odd paperback book, “Country Inns and Backroads” caught my attention in the college bookstore. It was a travel guide of sorts about authentic, independent inns being marketed by author Norman Simpson. How little did I know then how the book would influence my life’s trajectory leading to a career in independent hospitality.
After our college graduation, lifelong friend Dan Hopkins and I took off on adventure thanks to a Greyhound bus special, “Go Anywhere in the USA for $50”. We purchased two tickets and boarded in snow-covered Syracuse, NY and endured countless bus changes, strange characters and endless highway until 72 hours later we recovered at the home of our mutual friend Rob Marks in La Mesa, California.
Returning home a year later from our ‘working vacation’, it was long overdue time to find gainful employment. I finally read Simpson’s book and was intrigued by the inn and hotel properties Simpson wrote about. With a pile of rejection letters and zero job prospects I donned my best $99 suit, borrowed my parent’s car and drove two hours east down I-90 to the one property in the book nearest our upstate New York home.
Incidentally, I wore the same navy-blue suit with my red, white and blue tie weeks earlier in interviews with the Central Intelligence Agency. That is another story, a path untaken.
Crossing the threshold of an old inn that dated to 1773, I arrived at the venerable Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts inquiring about a job–without any clue what a remarkable place this inn or the town would turn out to be. Centuries ago the Inn had been a remote stagecoach stop. It was and is now a bustling hostelry in this picturesque New England village.
Thanks to the inn’s manager and Red Lion Inn owners Senator Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick I was given a warm welcome. By the end of the day, I had passed muster. The Inn was very busy indeed and yes, they could use my help right away. Returning a few days later to begin work as a dining room host (whatever that meant!) I stayed for a while in a tiny staff room on the sultry, un-air-conditioned 4th floor of the inn. I promised the owners I would work very hard for my $4 per hour wage and thus began a career in hospitality on July 2, 1979 that continues today.
I would soon learn that both Norman Rockwell and Norman Simpson called the village of Stockbridge their home. Norman Rockwell died the year prior to my arrival, and over the years I delighted in befriending Norman Simpson as a bon vivant marketer who told the story of authentic old American inns until his untimely death in 1986. Today, Select Registry lives on as the latest evolution of Simpson’s vision. Mrs. Molly Rockwell still lived across the street from the inn back then and her husband Norman’s spirit is still celebrated in the Berkshires and beyond.
Stockbridge is a rare community in the Berkshires, rich in history and continuing to attract writers, artists and performers as it has from its earliest days as a mission community serving the native Mahican tribe. Today, a few miles up the road in Lenox, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performs each summer at Tanglewood Music Center as it has since 1937. Many of the BSO musicians lodge at the Inn with the hallways filled with the sweet sounds of practiced instrumentals.
Years later, I had begun to learn a few things and was by then well-versed in many aspects of the Inn’s operation. ‘Mrs. Fitz’ called me to her office one day in 1993 and offered me the Innkeeper & General Manager position. After working in every department of the inn, I felt as though I had pulled the sword from the stone. ‘Mrs. Fitz’ as we called her was an inspiration, a mentor and a powerful force.
While there, I had the pleasure of being a part of the management team that re-opened sister hotel, Blantyre, in the early 1980’s. Later, as GM of the Red Lion Inn I led our team effort to open the Porches Inn at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts.
Leaving this Camelot experience years later, I felt as though I had ‘graduated’ and was ready for more of life’s lessons. My wife Susan and I embarked on a path that would lead us ever onward across the country. Before that, twenty-one exciting and wonderful years would pass there in Stockbridge until Jack and Jane retired.
We never looked back as our adventure in hospitality continued across the country. Fast forward to today, and we happily call northern Colorado our home. This was preceded by a beautiful Kanab, Utah home and our other ‘homes’ in Stamford, Vermont; Stockbridge and Dalton, Massachusetts; Madison, Connecticut; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Meadows of Dan, Virginia (where we opened the luxury Lodge and Spa at Primland); Pearce, Arizona; Waynesville, North Carolina and Clark, Colorado in about that order.
Iroquois, Mahican, Stockbridge, Hammonasset, Winnebago, the Eastern Band of Cherokee, Apache, Yampa Utes, Anasazi, Navajo and Paiute native peoples preceded us in all of these areas. Their spirits permeate the communities on our path.
Berkshire, Blue Ridge, Great Smokies, the Colorado Rockies and Chiracahua mountains have all served as the beautiful backdrop of our lives along the way. The dramatic vermillion cliffs of southern Utah surrounded us for a time.
This charming village of Kanab (our 10th such home, and 17th move since our October 2000 wedding in Stamford, Vermont) provided a warm welcome to a growing yet remote southern Utah community of 4,500 residents with thousands more U.S. and international visitors arriving in season to explore national parks, extensive BLM lands and extraordinary state parks such as Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
Kanab and Kane County are centered among Zion, Bryce, Grand Staircase Escalante and Grand Canyon National Parks. World-class challenging hiking trails traverse the area. Kanab was originally settled by Anasazi, Ute and Kaibab Paiute followed later in 1864 when ten Latter-Day Saint families moved into the area finally establishing Kanab in 1870.
Now a thriving remote city, Kanab is growing with the arrivals of outliers like us and the discovery of Kanab as an up and coming destination. Kanab’s town fathers and commissioners work diligently to balance Kane County’s growing tourism business with residents’ quality of life all the while honoring Kanab’s history as Little Hollywood, once the setting of many classic western movies and television shows.
Our many moves have resulted from the vagaries of a career in independent hospitality and working for a range of owners from beloved to indifferent whom we discovered would unfortunately retire and die, sell their real estate holdings, change their minds, endure the great recession, suffer from dementia, etc. In short, we experienced life with all its uncertainties and changes.
Executive hospitality recruiters have played an important role in our lives, enticing us to consider new properties and explore wonderful new horizons. I learned early on that these were some of our most important business relationships.
Most of all I am grateful to my wife Susan and our petites Cotons de Tulears who have endured these many moves. Susan has faced the unenviable task of managing each move with all the resulting household changes and upheaval—all while re-inventing herself and finding a place in these new communities. This has been the most difficult aspect of moving, along with saying goodbye to new friends who have been so kind and helpful. We cherish our friends whom in spite of time and distance continue to keep in touch.
Above all, we found amazingly good and generous people wherever we went including our staff, our guests and our neighbors. We have discovered beautiful places, some that most American’s will never see. Out West, we have come to know what quiet really means. And we learned to count on each other through all of life’s vicissitudes. Susan is fond of saying that I seemed like a stable guy once, and ever since our first date at the grand opening of Mass MoCA on May 29, 1999 our lives together have been a wild and beautiful ride.
We had the pleasure of representing Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab. Its founders had a vision years ago of saving the lives of animals with a mission to bring about a time when there are no more homeless pets. It is a joy, and a responsibility that we now dedicate our work to end the suffering and killing of animals in shelters all across the country by the year 2025.
None of us ever gets where we are without the help of others. To explore this extraordinary country has been our great privilege and we remember all those who sacrificed for us, our parents who raised us, our families who have given so much to us, our neighbors who have sustained us, the communities who have welcomed us, and the owners who have challenged us.
We have made a career in the work of managing, opening, marketing and growing private clubs, guest ranches, lodges and inns since those precious first years in Stockbridge.
We treasure the vendors, suppliers and consultants who have supported our work, and the guests and colleagues whom we have come to know and serve. It is all of you and especially my parents who have taught me the lessons of graciousness and service.
Time flies when you’re having fun.