RETIRING, veteran hotelier Gerrit Griffith

When I got the recent press release about his retirement I called, Griff, I said, forty-three years, is that all? What will you be doing? Going back to school?

Yes, he said.

Apparently, some lucky seven-year-old granddaughter will get her grandpa to drop her off and pick her up from school, feed her lunch and do homework together.

And that’s the plan, he said. Bring on the grandchildren.   

I tried to review those 43 years with Griff, which one was the best.

They were all great, he said like a true politician that he is, some crazier than other.

Gerrit Griffith graduated Cornell University in Ithaca NY along with a group of other local kids, who are all still working and enjoying good careers. Upon his return he was hired at the 75 room Tamarijn Beach hotel as assistant manager. Those were the days.

He then moved on to manage the hotel as it expanded into a resort and during his years with the company, he left his mark on Divi Divi, the Dutch Village, Divi Village, the chain’s Flamingo in Bonaire, and its hotel in St Maarten, finally he served as GM at Divi Phoenix Beach Resort.

Somewhere in between he went to Barbados, and immediately came back to Aruba. He enjoyed diverse settings, and personalities under just one employer, and will be leaving it all behind September 1st, 2019

So, what stuck in your mind, I asked.

We built the Alhambra Casino in 90 days, he laughs, working triple shifts, the first free standing casino on the island. ALBO, with Henk Bijen at the helm was our favorite construction company partner. They busted their you-know-what-s and got it done.

We knew nothing about casinos when we opened. The place was packed. Hopping. Our barefoot president and chairman of the board cut the ribbon with island politician Betico Croes, and we had just two dollar and fifty cents in the vault, but we were in business.

We didn’t know anything about timeshare when we opened the Dutch Village. But the sales office was packed. Hopping.

Most new designs and fresh ideas were found in the morning, on cocktail napkins, conceived at happy hour the night before. That was Bijen’s big specialty: The ability to read construction plans off a cocktail napkin.

And when a tail of a Caribbean hurricane threatened Tamarijn Beach Resort one stormy night with the ocean roiling, swollen, leaping over the boardwalk, Gerrit Bosch, a bigger than life Dutch-born contractor, drove his forklift through the lobby, knocked down the wooden stairs, and saved the resort from extensive damage by dumping boulders into the crazed waters, he worked all night, as he did on many other occasions, a dedicated and fondly-remembered partner.

Griffith enjoys the memory of those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants days. But he also likes to talk about the little touches that catapulted Divi to fame and fortune.

A little old man whose name we forgot, used to cruise the gardens in the early morning hours, pushing a large coffee urn on a cart with a tiny bell. If you heard the bell, you could crawl out of bed and receive your first cup of coffee, at your door step, free of charge, and climb back into bed.   

The breakfast trays, hoisted by rope to the second-floor rooms of Divi Dos, later on they were replaced by little trap doors, where you could find your breakfast croissants waiting for you at sunrise.  

Griff is found to talk about the army of Portuguese gardeners, they were all 90 years old, and answered to the exact same name, being all related, but they worked like horses, stallions, he adds, without speaking a word of English. The gardens were always spectacular!

And talking about characters, Griff sums it up. ‘I always tell HR to hire 80% personality and 20% knowledge. Because if you have the personality, we can teach you anything.’

At the end of the call Griff takes inventory: We had an amazing gallery of personalities he says, from Wally Wiggins down to the directors, the executive housekeeping, the miracle workers at reservations, Big Roger the Casino Greeter, the head bartender, Coconut Charlie, they all enjoyed long careers with the company, I guess there is something about DIVI. Once Divi, Always Divi.

Gerrit Griffith is the recipient of the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.         

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April 11, 2019
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