I was sitting here sipping some iced tea and thinking about Kemmons Wilson, you know, the man who started out with a popcorn stand in front of the theater when he he was a kid and went on to become the founder of Holiday Inns in 1953. I was a year old then.
I grew up hearing about Kemmons and his accomplishments, almost daily as a child.
One of the greatest days of my life came when the phone rang, in 1990, and it was Kemmons. He called to congratulate me about a Memphis City Council honor I had just received. Kemmons asked me to come to a little party he was throwing for me at one of his hotels near the Memphis International Airport. He said his pals would be there; police captains, politicians, judges, real estate brokers, bankers, school teachers, bricklayers, shoe salesmen, doctors, teachers, the hotel staff and his many other family and friends. Kemmons wanted me to play the piano for him. Kemmons said to me, in his clear and wonderful voice, "David, I want to hear your songs about Memphis." I said I was honored that he would think of me in such a way. Kemmons was the tennis sparring partner of my uncle, Frank Romeo, Jr.. Uncle Frank was once the president of the Memphis Homebuilders Association, so I figured Uncle Frank, now 92, must have said something to Kemmons about it. Uncle Frank and I used to chat about Kemmons and how marvelous a person he was whenever I visited him.
In May of 1968, Kemmons was the commencement speaker at the University of Alabama graduation, you know, that school they call "The Crimson Tide" which was once ruled by a "Bear". Alabama was about to confer the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree upon Kemmons. Kemmons said in his speech: "There is no substitute for hard work, even today. As long as we're willing to work, the American dream is not dead. It is alive and thriving. I believe freedom to work is second only to our religious freedom."
Kemmons was born on the fifth of January, 1913 in Osceola, Akansas. Kemmons went to be with the Lord on February 12, 2003; he was in his beloved Memphis that day.
Kemmons earned his holiday, although I would have to echo the words of Kemmons pal and partner, Wallace E. Johnson who said, "If there isn't any work in heaven, it won't be heaven to Kemmons."
I hope to see Kemmons again one day. I hope the Lord accepts my job application.
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