Donald Blakslee – A life well lived!!
March 3, 2023
I have written about Don Blakslee before in this blog. He is the reason I started here over 45 years ago. He was the General Manager then and I was a student attending University and I came to meet Don through my older brother Chris Fournier, who was a good friend of Don’s. Don is why I came back to the hotel business years after I completed university and started a family. He made working at a hotel, more than just that…it was family! And I am still here for that reason. It is my home away from home..my second family.
My dear brother Chris wrote this memorial below in honor of Don Blakslee. A beautiful story, one worth hearing and reading!! Because we all need more good stories like this!!
Donald Blakslee, Hotelier Extraordinaire, Father, Friend, Community Builder. Born March 7, 1933 in Sydenham (Kingston), Ontario; Died February 6, 2023 in Ottawa, Ontario at the age of 91.
He was called Mr. Ottawa by the Ottawa Citizen, a title well earned by a man who served as General Manager of the Lord Elgin Hotel for a record tenure of almost 50 years and who was a fixture on the Ottawa scene for almost that long.
Don was a true mensch. All who met him left his company feeling a little bit better about the world, and to walk with him in downtown Ottawa was to get the feeling you were with the city’s mayor, so wide was his acquaintance.
He was born 91 years ago to Ulysses (Ulie), the town mechanic, and Helen Blakslee, a nurse of Sydenham, Ontario, a small town near Kingston. In his case, you could take the boy out of the town but not the town out of the boy, and he always retained an Andy Griffith air about him.
Don attended Ryerson College, as it then was, studied hotel management and, as was to be expected given his people skills, was head of the student council.
He married Joan Connolly, a nurse from Calgary, who he met when she was staying in the hotel. They had 2 boys, Pat and Jim (Leslie) and 2 grandchildren, Elizabeth and Grace.
Don ran the hotel like a family enterprise and treated all the staff accordingly. During the summer some of the boys’ friends were hired as bellboys and Don maintained a lifelong friendship with these lads. One of those boys, Leo Grace, received a daily phone call from Don for a month after his father died. I’m sure there were many other examples of Don’s kindness and concern but you wouldn’t learn of them from him.
He didn’t confine his attention to the hotel alone. He was a member of the Ottawa Kiwanis Club for more than 50 years and was active on it’s Medical Foundation which awarded millions of dollars raised by the Club to the Ottawa medical community, and a member and a pillar of the Ottawa Tourist and Convention Bureau serving as President of the Greater Ottawa Hotel and Motel Association and of the Bureau in the early 70‘s and continuing as an active participant until after his retirement. In recognition, he was the first recipient of the eponymous Don Blakslee Hotelier of the Year Award, given annually to an Ottawa hotelier with exemplary achievements. He also served as a member of the Board and President of the Ottawa Boys and Girl’s Club, and was active in many other charitable organisations. In fact our friendship was born out of our joint involvement in the late 60’s with St.Joseph’s Sandy Hill Day Camp and he wasn’t even a Catholic.
While he was not an exercise enthusiast (in later years he and Joe Maddalena would stroll along the canal rather than run) he was a member and active social participant in the Ottawa YMCA for at least 50 years with a group of friends who enjoyed a never-ending supply of stories.
His life was one of the best stories of them all and there are many who greatly regret that they can no longer share it.
Chris Fournier, Chelsea, Quebec