So Hard to Say Goodbye

October 28, 2020
J. Willard Marriott (left) with future business partner Hugh Colton circa 1920.
J. Willard Marriott (left) with future business partner Hugh Colton circa 1920.

2020 has been an unbelievably challenging year for the travel industry. We were forced to close hundreds of hotels around the world, shut down our corporate headquarters and postpone weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversary parties and so many other once-in-a-lifetime events the world holds dear.

As if that wasn’t enough, we also had to furlough, layoff and offer voluntary separation plans to so many of our beloved associates, many of whom have been with Marriott for 20, 30 and even 40 years.

I think most of the associates who left understand the tough decisions we’ve had to make through this crisis. And it warms my heart that so many have expressed fond memories of the opportunities that Marriott provided. Others have said they want to come back to the company when the time is right. That’s beautiful.

All of them will always be members of the Marriott International family and I will forever be thankful for their contributions. While no associate is more valued than another, I have to acknowledge one particular person who recently retired – Brad Colton.

Brad is the grandson of Hugh Colton, the man who partnered with my parents J.W. and Alice Marriott to open a nine-seat A&W root beer franchise in Washington, D.C., in 1927. Hugh was a student at George Washington University Law School at the time and was one of my father’s fraternity brothers from the University of Utah.

Their tiny storefront location on 14th Street in downtown D.C. served almost 2,000 mugs of root beer on opening day and started my family on an odyssey that would lead us, over time, to the global company we are today. It’s an incredible story.

To be sure, those early days weren’t so profitable; the root beer business really couldn’t sustain two families. When Hugh finished law school in 1928, he sold his stake in the business to my parents and moved back to Utah.

But our family connection lived on. I attended college with Hugh’s son, Sterling and we also became fraternity brothers. In 1966, I convinced Sterling – a leading attorney at a Salt Lake City law firm -- to move to Washington, D.C. and work for me. We would go on to work together for 30 years. Sterling served in a number of roles including general counsel, vice chairman and, truly, as one of my closest advisers and friends.

Carolyn Colton, Sterling’s daughter, worked for us for 20 years as an attorney. Brad, Sterling’s son and the last of the Colton’s at Marriott, served in operations for 25 years as a hotel general manager and area general manager before becoming a brand and global procurement executive. After 39 years at Marriott, Brad retired this summer.

Just like that, after three generations, it’s the end of an era.

I’m not sure what my parents would have said about all the departures we’ve experienced this year. But for me, what comes to mind are the lyrics from an old George and Ira Gershwin song, “That Old Gang of Mine:”

I’ve got a longing way down in my heart
For that old gang that has drifted apart
They were the best pals that I ever had
I never thought that I’d want them so bad
Gee but I’d give the world to see
That old gang of mine

As we all face down COVID-19, I say thank you for the past and here’s to health and happiness in the future.

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

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