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‘Princess family’ reunion attracts old and new

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Remember when: Princess Hotel employees dating back from 1964 for Hamilton and 1972 for Southampton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Past and present Hamilton Princess and Fairmont Southampton staff reunited for a nostalgic evening at Tom Moore’s Tavern this week.

More than 70 former employees of the hotel and their significant others came together for a third reunion of the “Princess Family” in Bermuda.

“It’s nostalgic because we all were single people, very young, that came to Bermuda at the beginning of our career,” organiser Peter Pfeiffer told The Royal Gazette.

“Some people started at the Hamilton Princess right when it opened, some came a little later and four of them are still working there now.”

Mr Pfeiffer, who worked at the hotel from 1969 to 1980, sends out a monthly newsletter to about 300 subscribers, which he said keeps “the bond alive”.

“We have ‘Princess Family’ in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Thailand, Europe, America, Canada and even China,” he explained. “It’s very, very international and it’s all a great friendship.”

The 72 former staff who attended the reunion came from countries including America, England, Germany, Italy, France and Canada, and ranged from former management staff to executive chefs and maitre d’s to accountants.

They all met in Bermuda, some married and had children on the island and others still live and work in Bermuda, although most are now retired.

Mr Pfeiffer said the majority came to Bermuda to learn about the American system, which was a “completely different” administration system to that found in Europe. He added that many went on to have prominent careers in some of the “best hotels” in the world.

“When we come back and see this mix of people, it’s fantastic,” he said.

The group toured the newly renovated Hamilton Princess on Tuesday before gathering at Tom Moore’s Tavern for a cocktail reception and dinner party.

Bruno Fiocca, who has owned the restaurant since 1985, was delighted to host the gathering for a third time.

A former hotel employee, Mr Fiocca said: “It’s exciting. These people come from all over the world.

“I know them all somehow because we all worked together, either at the Hamilton Princess or the Southampton Princess.”

June Durham has worked in the Hamilton Princess’s housekeeping department for 50 years [see below].

“It’s lovely to be able to see all the old, old staff,” the Pembroke resident said, adding that a lot had changed over the past five decades. “It’s a big difference,” she remarked of both the hotel and the hospitality industry.

Marc Morabito, who came to Bermuda in 1969 and still lives in Warwick, recalled being able to spend a night out in Hamilton for four shillings.

The 70-year-old worked as a night receptionist at the Hamilton Princess and earned six pounds a week with board and laundry thrown in.

“It was paradise,” he said, adding that the hotel was “like the nursery of future hotel management careers”.

“It was a seminal period for many of us.” Mr Morabito, who is originally from France, enjoyed his first reunion and was amazed to see all the old, familiar faces. It was also Serge Leibowitch’s first reunion.

The 65-year-old former head pastry chef at the Hamilton Princess postponed his holiday this year so he could attend.

“It’s very nice to see all the old faces or new faces,” he said. “I haven’t seen these faces for so long.”

Mr Leibowitch, who lives in Warwick, worked on and off at the Hamilton Princess for a total of 35 years after coming to Bermuda in 1973.

Meanwhile, Wolfgang Heuser, from Germany, came to Bermuda in 1964 and worked at various hotels on the island until 1978, forging many friendships in the process.

“It’s fantastic,” he said of the reunion. “I now know only about 50 per cent of the people because we are all getting older.”

Now the owner of a restaurant near Lake Tahoe in northern California, Mr Heuser returns to the island every two years. Fellow German Rainer Maier, from Munich, has also become a repeat visitor since leaving Bermuda in 1983, enjoying the weather and seeing old friends.

Seeking relaxation, he arrived on the island in 1962 to work as a chef at the Reefs Beach Club in Southampton.

“I stayed there nine and a half years and then I was promoted at the new Southampton Princess,” he said. “I did the opening on August 17, 1972.”

Mr Maier added: “During my time here I met a lot of Bermudians and I am still in contact with them.

“And a few German friends are still on the island and of course Italians like Bruno up here.”

He met his wife in Germany and they married on the island. Their son was born in Bermuda and even worked on the island as a chef for a short while.

A walk down memory lane: June Durham and Peter Pfeiffer reunite (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
50 not out: June Durham has served the Princess Hotels for most of her life (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
<p>Fifty years of going the extra mile for guests </p>

June Durham has always loved meeting people.

For 50 years, the room attendant at the Hamilton Princess has gone above and beyond to ensure her guests enjoy their stay. The grandmother, who has become a firm favourite among visitors, stresses the importance of service with a smile and going the extra mile.

“I love people,” Ms Durham, of Pembroke, told The Royal Gazette. “I love to meet people. I have had guests return years and years and years and they want nobody else but me. When you’re in hospitality, you have to be friendly with everybody. You always have to smile.”

But she also pointed out the need to accommodate guests’ wishes, no matter how challenging they may be at times.

Ms Durham, who is in her early seventies, was one of about 70 past and present hotel staff who got together at a special reunion this week. Reminiscing about her five decades spent at the hotel, she said it had changed a lot.

“There have been a lot of changes but it’s been beautiful,” she said.

And while the hotel has changed, so has the hospitality industry, Ms Durham said, putting it down to being a “sign of the times”.

But she still enjoys her job, despite the ups and downs that come with working in the industry.

Ms Durham comes from a family of hospitality workers, with her grandmother, mother and father all having worked in the industry. “All of us have been in hospitality,” she said, adding that her son also followed in her footsteps, working for the Department of Tourism.

She stressed that anyone looking to make a career in the industry has to be passionate about it. “You have to love it; not like it, you have to love it.”