Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Clay James was Mr. Hospitality

for the Tetons and for the state

 


My first chance to watch the late Clay James in action was when he was helping to preserve world peace from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1989.

James, the long-time general manager of the state’s second biggest lodging complex, was hosting U. S. Secretary of State James Baker and Eduard Shevardnadze, the minister of Foreign Affairs for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, for the world peace accords at the end of the Cold War.

The location during a spectacular September period was Clay’s domain at Jackson Lake Lodge, nestled below the Teton Mountains between Jackson and Yellowstone.

My good friend Clay, 75, died Oct. 27.

Stories about the peace meeting were told along with other interesting recollections during a celebration of Clay’s life at his beloved lodge Nov. 5.

Over 400 of his friends gathered in the main hall to toast a man whose life works affected people all over the world.

Wyoming has enjoyed an amazingly snowless October. On this evening it was snowing. The normal view of the mountains visible through that giant wall of glass, well, the view was dismal. We all knew the Tetons were there. Tonight a pesky snowfall obscured the famous view.

Or as former Teton Park Supt. Mary Scott said: “Clay is gone. It looks like he took the Tetons with him.”

The celebration was a huge success but involved a lot of last-minute good work since the lodge has been closed for two months. One of Clay’s successors, Alex Klein, announced: “This is how Clay would have handled this event. I hope we are up to the task.”

The Grand Teton Lodge Company is the state’s second largest hospitality operation behind Yellowstone. It was Clay’s domain for 32 years.

He hosted presidents, foreign leaders, governors, and celebrities and did it all with a grace and professionalism that set standards that thousands of employees took with them into future careers.

The workforce at GTLC is seasonal. Most are young people getting away from home for the first time. Young people from all over Wyoming and the world got their first jobs there.

Clay found a job for my youngest daughter, Amber. She said standards were high and she was expected to be the “best employee” she could be. Our daughter called us after and said Clay had often checked on her. Her new job was public area attendant.

We agreed that she would “be the best public area attendant” she could be. I asked her, by the way, what kind of job is that?

“I’m cleaning the restrooms,” she replied.

Many thousands of young people worked for Clay. He and his wife Shay watched over them. Clay felt he was the luckiest man alive to be working there in the shadows of the Tetons. He wanted all those young people to look back on their GTLC times as the best times of their lives. And they were.

There are people all over the world holding big jobs in the hospitality industry and every other industry who learned about work from Clay. One example is Trey Matheu, who is executive director of Operations of Xanterra, up the road in Yellowstone. He recalled working for Clay as pivotal to his career.

I served with Clay on the Jackson Hole Visitor Council, the Wyoming Travel Commission board and the board of the Mountain AAA Auto Club over the past 26 years. We both with our wives Nancy and Shay were looking forward to celebrating our 50th wedding anniversaries next year. And we always enjoyed a good Scotch.

During the Nov. 5 festivities, Clay’s son Scott toasted his dad while folks passed out hundreds of custom-made glasses with the GTLC logo plus Clay’s initials, which were filled with a single malt, scotch shot. Scott led us in a wonderful toast to one of the greatest gentlemen ever.

One of the main organizers of Clay’s celebration was Joan Anzelmo, former public affairs chief for Grand Teton Park. She reminded everyone that Clay was a former Eagle Scout and she ticked off all the attributes of being a scout including “courteous, brave, trustworthy,” but she also got a laugh when she reminded them that being “thrifty” was also one of those attributes. Clay loved nice things but he always had a good business head when it came to making and saving money.

Joan wrapped up the program nicely by referring to Clay as “a grand man, in a grand hotel, in a grand park.”

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at http://www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books. His newest is “Wyoming at 125,” which is now on sale at fine bookstores. His books are available at http://www.wyomingwonders.com.

 

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