Hotel Maven John Fitzpatrick Thrives With An Irish Charm
John Fitzpatrick will do almost anything to please a guest at one of his hotels. Like the time famed actor Gregory Peck visited in the early 1990s, and wanted his own private phone line.
So Fitzpatrick went out and bought 30 telephone cords.
“I went up on the 17th floor and I kept connecting the cords and I lined them down to the second floor into my office to give him my direct line,” Fitzpatrick recalls. “Then I rang all my friends and I said, ‘Don’t call this number ’cause if you do, Gregory Peck may pick it up.'”
Fitzpatrick may no longer have to buy telephone cords for his guests. But the basic idea of hospitality, learned working at his father’s hotels growing up in Ireland, remains the same.
“We picked up little sayings from Ireland, from poets or literature, one liners, and we put them on the pillows,” says Fitzpatrick.
He is the owner of the Fitzpatrick Hotel on Lexington Avenue and the Fitzpatrick Grand Central.
“I do spot checks,” he says. “My management does it every day, but I like to do it every so often.”
Fitzpatrick also serves as Chairman of the Hotel Association of New York, lobbying in Washington and Albany on behalf of the industry.
“People say, ‘John you chance your arm a lot,'” says Fitzpatrick, using an Irish expression meaning to take a risk.
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Like the time he was at the Clinton White House for a reception for the Irish prime minister, and he introduced himself to then First Lady and Senate candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I told her we’d love to do a fundraiser for her in our hotel, and she said fine, and I gave her the card,” he says. “And everybody said, ‘Only you would hand out your business card to the First Lady in the White House.”
As evidenced by the pictures and letters on Fitzpatrick’s office wall, the Clintons have become his friends.
Fitzpatrick moves easily among the powerful and the prominent, and there is often a connection to the old country.
“Bono has been a great friend of the family,” he says. “They live close to us. We have a hotel in Killiney, on the hill, and his whole family lives down the hill and uses the hotel regularly.”
“Last year I was in the White House on the 17th of March, and I knew in my heart and soul the following day I was going back to Ireland to do this undercover program where I would be in the worst areas of Ireland.”
The undercover program he refers to is the Irish television show, “Secret Millionaire,” where a well to do person spends a week out of contact with his business associates and friends. For the show, Fitzpatrick lived in a poor Irish town for a week, pretending to be an out of work American doing a documentary about the effects of the recession.
He eventually told people the truth, and then donated money to some of the groups he’d come to know and michael kors respect.
Fitzpatrick’s philanthropy began in the 1990s through the fo michael kors undation he established in his parents’ name.
“We g michael kors o into Catholic and Protestant areas and donate money to all of the areas,” he says. “One of the biggest ones is Corrymelia Reconciliation Center. So it’s great to see everyone is one now and everybody is together.”
The Fitzpatrick Hotel played a quiet but influential role in bringing the two sides in the Northern Ireland conflict together, hosting meetings aimed at first achieving a ceasefire and then a peace agreement, which was eventually signed in 1998.
Fitzpatrick befriended Ian Paisley, Jr., whose father Ian Sr. was a long time Unionist party leader with Protestant ties. The senior Paisley eventually became First Minister of Northern Ireland and when he came to New York, he stayed at the Fitzpatrick.
“Six Irishwomen from Derry were walking out with six shopping bags, and they turned around and said. ‘Dr. Paisley, what are you doing here?'” Fitzpatrick recalls. “And he had a great answer. He said, ‘I’m Irish, why wouldn’t I be here?'”
In 2008, Fitzpatrick was cited for his charity work and for his role in the peace process when he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
“Very few Irish people have got it, so you have to look at it that way,” he says. “No one came to me and said, ‘Are you really going to take it?’ Absolutely not. Because the Irish and English have really bonded together, and it’s a total honor.”
Fitzpatrick’s mother was a one time Miss Ireland, and his father ran a well known hotel business under the Fitzpatrick name.
“We’re all crazy about each other as a family, but as a business it was tough,” Fitzpatrick remembers. “My father as very, very tough and dominating. Maybe that’s why I got this urge to go and do something on my own.”
So he left Ireland ironically carrying his father’s dream of opening a hotel in the States.
After stops in Las Vegas and Chicago, Fitzpatrick came to New York and made his father’s dream a reality.