My Heart Attack Taught Me to Slow Down

December 16, 2013

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Bill Marriott at Work

The opening lyrics to the Simon and Garfunkel song “The 59th Street Bridge” have special resonance for me this holiday season.  About this time of the year in 1989, I suffered a heart attack, not one, but three over the course of a few weeks.  I didn’t slow down. I kept moving too fast.  I was the classic workaholic.

By the third heart attack, I concluded that if my cardiovascular trouble didn’t kill me, my wife probably would if I didn’t change the way I was living.  I made all the standard doctor-ordered changes – diet, exercise, less travel, even visualizing bucolic New Hampshire scenes when I needed to calm down during stressful moments.  The most difficult habit to change was my attitude.  I was a constant worrier. 

This was an inherited trait from my father who wrote long notes to me in the dead of night because he literally couldn’t sleep until he’d gotten whatever was bothering him off his chest and onto paper.  Often the night-shift hotel associates would do a double take when they spotted him walking briskly through the kitchen at four in the morning.  I’ve never been quite as bad as my dad.

I thought I had things in balance while my kids were growing up.  I was home for dinner, helped with homework, took weekend trips to museums and sporting events.  If anything, my heart attack in '89 showed me that I didn’t have things quite as balanced as I thought.

I Bill Marriott Pilatesneeded an attitude adjustment.  I needed to set aside time to be, not to do.  Here’s my list of three changes that helped me build a better boundary between work and home:

  1. Weekly “date night” with my wife, Donna
  2. Say “no,” politely turning down many invitations
  3. Pilates at least twice weekly
  4. Treadmill, five days a week.

I’m 81 years old and going strong and I hope everyone learns my valuable lesson this holiday season to improve the balance between work and play. Why?  If one person learns from my life-threatening experience and changes his or her habits and is spared a heart attack, I’ll be thrilled.

Work hard by all means, but don’t run up a huge tab of stress and worry. 

I wish everyone a happy, healthy holiday.  Can there be any better gift?  I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the Move.

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Aloha and thank you for such a valuable message. After having a heart attack, quadruple by-pass, and a recent defibrillator implant in the last year (along with a acoustic neuroma brain tumor)...I am in the process of trying to "slow down" and find balance in my life. I will use your 4 points of advice as a guideline towards wellness. One day, one step, one heartbeat at a time. "E ola ia oe...long life to you!"

Mr. Marriott,

This was a great read for me this morning as I reflected on a hard 2 years of business travel, cancer, and relationship issues with my wife. Finding that balance seems to always be a reaction from something life threatening. I hope other readers can learn and start to adjust their lives better to prevent the bad experiences from opening their eyes later. Love your blog!

Happy holidays and look forward to staying in a Marriott soon!


Dear Mr Marriott,

May I first wish you and yours, a Happy Holiday Season!

I have just finished reading your most recent blog post, and I find the timing of your particular sentiment a rather fortunate coincidence. Especially in regards to encouraging your readers towards change and healthier habits.

You see, I am currently a guest of a Marriott Residence inn, in Atlanta. While accompanying my husband on work locations, my children and I stay in Marriott hotels, nationwide, for long stretches of time, Throughout my extensive experiences as a guest of your hotels, over many, many months during the last 5 years, I have never once seen recycling bins. I believe the lack of recycling options being offered to your guests, to be a hefty oversight. This oversight needs to be addressed, right away.

After multiple attempts to speak with individual hotel management, and taking my concerns to corporate offices, with no evident results, I am currently in the process of petitioning Marriott CEO, Mr. Arne Sorenson and Marriott Hotels, Int'l. I believe Marriott Hotels need to begin implementing a company wide recycling program. In other words, I believe it is time for a healthy change within Marriott Hotel. Specifically the way solid waste is managed and recycled.

The hospitality industry is one of the leading producers of solid waste, much of that waste recyclable materials. Many hotel chains, in the interest of conservation and sustainability, are boosting the eco-friendliness of their hotels. This includes reducing water and energy consumption, as well as recycling. No doubt, some of these changes have been propelled by a recent surge in eco-tourism. It would certainly behoove Marriott Hotels to consider a recycling program for economic reasons.

Beyond a question of finances, recycling is a measure of good environmental health, and a sense of accountability, both to this planet and to the future generations who must occupy it.

I believe there is wonderful potential for a reality show in this story. One could begin with a description of my experience as a guest of the Marriott hotels, and the process of what it currently takes for me to recycle, at any one of the Marriott Hotels nationwide. Then delve into the process of what it takes to implement the kind of change I am seeking from Marriott. All the while the viewer is transported along, every step of the way. This would be a concept similar to "Undercover Boss," which I am aware Mr. Sorenson was featured on. The difference here would be, that instead of going undercover to help only Marriott company employees, Marriott could expose it's own negligence in failing to recycle, even as the viewer is shown the exact steps being taken to correct that oversight. The result could be a powerfully resonating message about corporate conscience and accountability. More so, it would carry the message of change for a healthier self, to a whole new level. When one considers the interconnectedness of every person and species on this planet, it is clear that all our choices, healthy or not, have the ability to impact the entire world.

I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to read this. Happy Holidays!

Warmest Regards

Mrs. Gabrielle Cesar-McBride

I work at the Omaha Customer Service Department. I always follow your comments. They are great. I hope you and your family have a great holiday season.

I wish you would come to Omaha to see what has been done to the center. It's fantastic! Bring Mr. sorenseon with you as we would like to meet him. I'm off on Thursdays, so come when I'm here.

Glad that you aare "still around!" Merry Christmas thanks for continuing to blog!

Best wishes from an ex associate.

Dear Mr. Marriott,

Thank you for sharing some sage advice.

This year at the age of 33 I was told that I had not one but three brain aneurysms and that the largest aneurysm was located in the Circle of Willis, specifically on the main artery.

I ended up undergoing two very successful brain surgeries and spent 6 months off of work. The love and support my family and I received from all the Ladies & Gentlemen at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, where I work, was over whelming and helped me get through those tough days, while confirming my passion for our company.

In the end, attitude had everything to do with my recovery and stress had everything to do with my sickness. From my experience, I have learnt many things, but most importantly I learnt what my mother has been telling me for years, slow down, be aware of my choices, focus on the moment and challenges at hand and know that you are in control of your stress, focus and thoughts.

Thank you Mr. Marriott for sharing your story and for helping strengthening our culture!


Dear Bill - I am a big fan of Marriott. I learned a lot from my father and he was a Rewards Member before me. One of our last get togethers was in Albuquerque, NM for the Balloon Festival. I signed up for the rewards program shortly after that and have stayed at many wonderful hotels all over. I bought your book at the LA Airport Marriott and enjoyed reading it very much. I have the copy on my sailboat. I keep it next to one of my other favourite books, a story about a restauranteur, "PALM BEACH & BAR HARBOR, ala Testa". I'm in Australia now on a circumnavigation and hope for a stop over and a stay at your famous Ritz-Carlton, Singapore..
Warm regards,

Bill, Twenty five years since my quadruple by-pass and twenty since my prostate cancer surgery. Every day's a good day. Like yourself, I learned very quickly to pace myself better and prioritize the elements of life.

Thank you for sharing. I love to work, I think a lot AND I'm very competitive. I love the hospitality industry, teaching students and creating assignments. Today your words mean a lot; my mother resided with me before she passed and she would always tell me to "slow down". Tomorrow is my birthday and I'm thinking of both of my parents they were both hard workers. I'm grateful for life because so many of my friends and family have passed at very "young" ages. So tomorrow, I will be humble, thankful, continue to live a healthy life and encourage others to do so as you have and be appreciative for life.

Merry Christmas Bill Marriott, enjoy your family.

Great advice for all of us Mr. Marriott! Happy to hear you are still doing well, and hope to get to meet you again in the near future! Thanks for all you do for the Hosts, and for your interesting and important blogs! Tom