Louis Grant hailed as phenomenal leader, mentor and great friend
Louis Grant had wanted the celebration of his life to be short and filled with happy, funny memories, his wife Debbie told family and friends on Tuesday at Plantation Cove in Richmond, St Ann.
His wish, for the most part, was honoured, as speaker after speaker shared rib-tickling stories about the tourism icon whose passing on March 5 had shocked the industry he served for 50 years, and on which he left an indelible mark as a phenomenal hotel manager, mentor, and great friend to many.
Flanked by her and her husband’s two daughters — Dr Ali Peterson and Dr Bianca Underwood — Debbie Grant shared how he persisted in courting her despite her lack of interest when she first met Grant.
She eventually asked him to write her a letter telling her why she should date him.
“He replied that he hadn’t written a letter in years because he gave dictation, and his handwriting is very bad. However, he wrote the letter,” she said.
“Thirty years later I still have that letter,” she revealed, noting that it was three pages long.
“Louis would find unique ways to show his love, and while his sister compiled many reggae and soca CDs for his listening pleasure, I also received many CDs filled with romantic tracks.”
After he proposed they got married on Saturday, June 22, 1996 at Rio Chico, the private property in Ocho Rios owned by Grant’s friend and Sandals Resorts International founder the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart.
“We would have celebrated our 27th anniversary this year,” she said, the thought bringing her to tears.
“Louis was the best father to our daughters… Ali and Bianca have made us proud in their careers,” she said, adding that Grant had deep affection for his grandchildren, and loved game shows, water sports, gadgets, music, and most of all cars.
“He enjoyed buying a car, restoring it to immaculate condition, and it would be sold in a flash as everyone wanted a pre-owned Louis Grant vehicle,” she said.
“Louis was so much to so many [people] and has left a mark on all of us present; that’s why we’re here, to show our undying love and respect for him,” she said.
Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who pointed out that he and Grant celebrated birthdays a day apart — Grant on April 9, and he on April 10 — recalled that he first met Grant in January 1954 when, after graduating from Calabar High School, he went to Cornwall College to teach. At the time Grant was in fifth form.
Terry Gillette, who in later years entered politics and then the priesthood, and who at the time had obviously thought the young Patterson was a student, saw Patterson walking between class time, on the lawn, and not in uniform.
“So he dashed out to try and apprehend this rookie, and a voice came from the classroom shouting ‘Gillette! Gillette! Stop where you are. That’s a master,'” Patterson shared, to much laughter.
That encounter was the genesis of what became “a very, very special, personal relationship” between both men, who later worked in tourism — Patterson as minister with responsibility for the sector, and Grant as a marketing expert at the Jamaica Tourist Board’s office in Chicago.
“There came a period when the Government, and particularly the ministry for which I was responsible, had to acquire and operate hotels and we were looking for outstanding marketing competence and persons who were equipped to be managers of our hotels; that’s why Louis Grant was invited to return to Jamaica,” the former prime minister said.
He noted that Grant would simply offer to do something for his friends because he recognised their need, and described him as “a supreme manager” who knew how to get the best out of his team in his own way”.
“Everybody who worked for him knew he was committed to supporting their advancement and ensure their welfare,” Patterson said, adding, “tourism has been enriched by his engagement… Walk good, my friend and brother, Louis.”
To Brian Roper, general manager, Sandals Resorts International, Grant was not only a mentor, but a man who was responsible for moulding staff in the award-winning, all-inclusive hotel chain.
“If there was a prize for the general manager who graduated the most success stories in the group he would win hands down, second, third, and fourth as well,” Roper said to applause and nods of agreement.
“He never micromanaged. He was never one to tell you what to do; you would enter his office, you have a problem, you have a conversation, he would drop hints that you would leave knowing what you had to do and do it quickly.
“He had a saying that I will never forget — ‘Get on your bike and pedal’. And those of us who worked with him know that you should pedal and pedal fast,” said Roper, who also shared many anecdotes about Grant, including his love for gadgets, which he would buy before he knew how to use them, as well as his habit of having brand-new briefcases in his office which he would sell to any team member who saw and “made the mistake” of admiring them.
“Many of us have briefcases to this day that we have never used,” Roper said, eliciting laughter.
Roper noted that while Grant joined Sandals in 1991 at Sandals Montego Bay he became known for his stewardship at Sandals Dunn’s River.
“His leadership skills were phenomenal. Do your job well and you’d be a friend of his forever… He was huge on staff welfare [and] created loyalty around him.
Custos of St Ann Norma Walters noted that Grant was commissioned a justice of the peace in 1994 and gave yeoman service for 27 years.
“St Ann was blessed to have had this gentle giant,” she said, adding that Grant gave support to the parish’s adult literacy programme.
Grant’s niece Tobi King said his name became synonymous with excellence in the hospitality industry.
“Louis’s exceptional leadership skills were evident, not only earning him countless prestigious awards, but also earning him the respect and admiration of his team and everyone he worked with,” she said.
“He received a lifetime achievement award from the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association as well as a formal recognition from the Government when he was awarded the Order of Distinction for service to tourism and community development,” King said.
“My uncle was more than just a man, he was a legend, an absolute G, and his impact will be felt for years to come.”
Added King: “Even though he was officially retired, Louis continued to make an impact on the industry, never hesitating to answer a call, offer advice or show up when asked. As recently as last November he was on-site at the soon to be reopened Sandals Dunn’s River Resort, doing what he does best: offering advice, expertise, stories and that unmistakable Louis Grant charm.”
Tributes were also delivered by Gary and Pamela Grant, Gregory Khan, Adrian Grant, and Clifton Reader.