Marriott’s First Lady – A Tribute to My Mother

May 10, 2017

JWM Jr and Alice ca1976

Recently my daughter Debbie Marriott Harrison wrote a beautiful tribute to my mother in recognition of International Women’s Day. My mother was a woman of “firsts” and her story continues to pave the way for women striving to make an impact as businesswomen and true partners. My mother was a leader in our company and our family—her legacy is unforgettable.

Below is Debbie’s tribute to my mother re-published.


Cold Shoppe to Hot Shoppe

At an early age, Allie was industrious. She had to be because her father had died in the 1918 flu epidemic. While her mother was working at a children’s hospital, Allie tutored students after school, cooked all of the meals for her family, and took care of the house. A brilliant student, she attended the University of Utah at age 15 and graduated with honors in Spanish by age 19. With very few women attending college at this time, she was head of her class and ahead of her time.

She married my grandfather the day after college graduation. Grandpa was seven years older and they were head over heels for each other. I saw it in person decades later when I was around them, but I’ve also had the privilege of reading about their commitment to each other in love letters that have been preserved in the family. The day after they got married, they jumped in their Model T Ford and started the eleven-day journey across the country to Washington, D.C. There were no highways back then, just dirt roads and dreams.

When they got to D.C., they opened an A&W root beer stand. When the weather was hot, business was great, selling root beer for a just a nickel. But when the weather cooled, Allie became fearful that frosted mugs weren’t going to be a draw. So, she knocked on the Mexican embassy door and using her best Spanish, charmed the chef into teaching her how to make hot tamales and chili.

There was no kitchen in the root beer stand, so she cooked the Mexican cuisine in their tiny apartment and carried it over to the restaurant every day. Customers loved her cooking, so they added hamburgers and hot dogs to the menu and expanded their newly named Hot Shoppe. Our First Lady was our first cook and brand marketer.

At the time, A&W didn’t allow hot food to be served, so they got an exception. Then, in a stroke of brilliance, they cut through the road/sidewalk curb and offered curbside service. My grandparents were true entrepreneurs and together, they were unstoppable.

They worked hard to build their little restaurant chain and they did it against all odds during the Great Depression. At the end of each day, Allie would put all the sticky nickels they’d earned in a brown bag, walk them back to the apartment and enter them in a ledger, effectively making her Marriott’s first CFO.


From Chef to Decorator and Beyond

In 1957, they opened their first hotel and Allie became the first decorator. She would go on to decorate several more venues hanging drapes and putting up pictures. In 1964, Marriott became a corporation and she was one of our first board members and the only woman. Along the way, Allie was a major force behind every important decision in the company.

My grandparents also gained stature in the community. They were close to President Eisenhower and were invited to many White House dinners. Grandma became involved with the Republican National Committee and was the first female treasurer. She started a Welcome to Washington Club and was a D.C. Committee Representative. This was the start of her involvement with politics and her long relationship with presidents and politicians, including being in charge of prestigious inaugural events.

My grandmother was also a philanthropist. She had an office in the Kennedy Center and was on their founding board. She was a fundraiser extraordinaire and one of Washington’s great hostesses.


Family First

Her first love was her family and raising her boys. She was one of the most important people in my dad’s life. When my father started running the company, she would sometimes serve as the referee between him and my grandpa. That was tricky. My grandfather was a product of the depression and was more risk adverse than my father. My grandmother was the peacemaker.

Later in life, she taught me the most important lesson of all when she sacrificed her own health and wellbeing when taking care of my grandfather who had a bad heart. The last fifteen years of her life were marked by ongoing illness and isolation. It was difficult to witness and a wake-up call for me to prioritize my own physical and mental wellbeing as well as make it an integral part of our corporate culture.

Allie was the definition of class, devotion and hard work. When I look at her, I see a groundbreaking woman and admirable role model who defied business expectations. Guided by a strong moral compass, she did what she thought was right and most needed. In doing so, the First Lady of Marriott lived the American Dream and helped build an iconic company that now employs hundreds of thousands of people and affects the lives of millions of families around the world. As the spotlight shines on inspiring women today and every day, she remains a true beacon.

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

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Very interesting. I've been with the company for over 28 years and don't think I've ever heard this story about Mrs. Alice Marriott.

Thank you for a very interesting part of the Marriott family.

i loved reading your article it was very nice thanks a lot for sharing it

Dear Mr. Marriott,
My name is Kris Roush. I am one of the children of R. D. "Skip" Roush (89). I am so sorry to have to share the news of my father's death this morning. As you know, he was one of Marriott's early pioneers with you and your father. You hired him in Arlington, VA. I learned to swim at age 7 at the Key Bridge hotel. Dad went to Philadelphia, and then opened the St. Louis hotel and then to Denver. You probably don't remember that you and I played tennis in St. Louis when I played on my high school tennis team - around 1972-73.

Dad so treasured the note you sent five years ago when my mother, Mary passed away. I have teased my dad because to this day, he has a framed 8x10 photo of you on his dresser and the photo of my mom is only a 5x7!

My dad died while living at La Posada, a lovely retirement community in Green Valley, AZ. We will have a simple ceremony this Friday, May 20 at 3:00 pm. We will be displaying your framed photo on the Memory Table. My sister recently found on E-Bay an actual Room Service menu from the 1964 Philadelphia Marriott and we even found the album by the Richie Moore Trio singing "Yellow Bird." It was fun to see the photos of the Sirloin Saddle and The Kona Kai restaurants. Marriott holds a special place in the hearts of all of us kids. We now range in age from 64 - 57. We all have Marriott memorabilia in our homes.

Anyway, I know that dad would want you to know how much he loved your father and mother, and how he had such fondness and respect for you. Thank you from all the Roush children. Marriott's values were instilled in my dad and he passed those on to us.

Sincerely yours,
Kris Roush
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 463-8628

Mr. Marriott,

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your daughter's tribute to your mother. I stumbled across your blog while searching for a list of corporate employees to contact with a note about a recent experience I had in one of your hotels. I rarely take the time to draft and send as message such as the one you are currently reading, but I was touched by the level of professionalism and overall human kindness I encountered while conversing with one of your most valuable employees.

I have just returned form a trip to New Orleans, LA. I must confess that I reserved my stay at a hotel near one of yours on Canal Street. While searching for quality dining in a well-kept establishment, I walked into your JW Marriott with my husband. It was beautifully decorated and it's level of cleanliness must be considered pristine. We chose to visit your cocktail lounge to relax for a while. We were immediately and warmly greeted by a bartender named Mohammed Rad.

Mr. Rad offered us the most excellent level of customer service I have encountered in years. As a current resident in NYC, frequently dining in upscale restaurants, I can confidently say that he was the best server we have had the pleasure of interacting with. He not only served with a genuine smile, he offered us tips on sightseeing that matched our expectations for the trip. When we complimented the beauty of the hotel, he shared that working for the Marriott family has been one of his greatest blessings. He mentioned how you value your employees and their contributions to your business. His appreciation and devotion to your corporation coupled with your commitment to excellent customer service has now convinced us that Marriott hotels will be our first choice when planning future trips.

Our family will continue to share our experience with your hotel and employee with anyone we know is looking to book an out-of-town stay. Mohammed's kindness will never be forgotten and we hope that your organization will recognize his outstanding work. Thank you for helping to make our trip memorably fantastic!


Robert & Danielle DiMarco
Franklin Square, NY

What a great inspiring Story all of us should learn from that, she was a strong, giving person, good in business ,had a good Heart,and was a great Mother. A lot of us having trouble to balance all of what life is dishing out good and bad, this is why this story is a inspiration to me.....

Great story about a great family. We love the Marriott brand.

Wonderful story and so appropriate for Mother's Day