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Outrigger hotel executive near retirement is saluted

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    Mildred Courtney, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts’ corporate director, military liaison emeritus, is retiring after 60 years on the job. She started as a switchboard operator and worked her way up to become a hotel manager. Here, Courtney shakes hands with Marine Cpl. Grant Darbeau, who was at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki to pick up donated pillows.
    This undated photo of Mildred Courtney and soldiers was taken at Bellows Air Force Station, when she was invited to observe a special exercise.

She got stacked with lei at her retirement party and then delivered them to Tripler Army Medical Center for the patients.

It is the kind of compassionate service that has marked Mildred Courtney’s 60-year career at Outrigger Hotels & Resorts.

Outrigger threw a retirement party for Courtney, 88, on Aug. 12, and she is expecting to actually stop working toward the end of the year.

In her earlier days with the company, she was known for creating fun memories for guests and the broader community.

She would board a tugboat to go meet incoming hotel guests arriving on Matson’s passenger ships on Boat Days, even though “I’m a seasick person,” she said. After the tricky process of going from tug to cruise ship, she would freshen up and greet guests, taking notes and getting pictures of them, “and I’d write it up for the hotel newspaper,” she said, which guests would then hold onto as a keepsake of their Hawaii visit.

Courtney also would send her stories and photos to the guests’ hometown newspapers, she said.

Her title is corporate director, military liaison emeritus, but that hardly begins to cover what she does. Outrigger Enterprises Group President and CEO David Carey was attempting to put Courtney’s job description on paper. “It’s at about six pages,” he said.

Courtney has been honored numerous times by her employer, winning the Outrigger President’s Award five times as well as the company’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She has also earned high honors from the U.S. Department of Defense, branches of the armed services and many military associations.

In a recent staff newsletter, Outrigger Chairman Emeritus Dr. Richard Kelley recalled a conversation with retired Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak, who served briefly at Camp Smith as commander of Marine Forces Pacific in the mid-1990s.

“He smiled and spoke the following words with emotion and conviction: ‘Mildred Courtney. Now there’s a lady,’” Kelley remembered. Krulak continued, “I cannot say enough about her and all that she and your company have done for the military in Hawaii.”

Even more military brass sang Courtney’s praises in a video produced for her retirement party, including retired Adm. Ronald Zlatoper.

“If I went back to the (retired four-star conference) that I attend every year and said, ‘I saw David Carey today,’ most of them would have an idea who that was, but a lot of them wouldn’t. However if I said I saw Mildred Courtney today, every one of those retired four-stars would know who I was talking about,” he said, and smiled broadly.

In 1990 Courtney was named government-military liaison, a position with wide-ranging responsibilities to which she also brought her own sense of compassion-driven service.

In addition to helping service members find lodging at Outrigger properties, she arranged food donations, donations of books for sailors at sea, donations of phone cards so deployed service members could call home during the holidays, helped military families furnish homes with used hotel furniture and completed countless other projects, persuading others to help along the way.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 12 as Mildred Courtney Day in the City and County of Honolulu, citing her service for Outrigger but also her volunteer work for the Friends of Honolulu City Lights.

“Mildred Courtney brought joy to generations of Oahu families by giving her time and energy to Honolulu City Lights, and she was instrumental in bringing the city and the Navy together for a motor vehicle registration pilot project on base,” Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We appreciate her years of service and wish her a wonderful and well-deserved retirement.”

Courtney started working for the hotel company even before the Outrigger brand was created, recruited in 1955 by Edgewater Hotel official Bill Kline, who had heard good things about her work at Hawaiian Telephone Co.

Kline asked her not once, not twice, but three times to leave the phone company to come to work for Roy Kelley’s hotel company.

After turning him down twice, she relented the third time and went to work as a hotel switchboard operator, and quickly rose to the chief operator position.

During a 24-hour downpour in 1959, the basement parking garage and switchboard room flooded, and while most operators evacuated, Courtney remained at her post until the equipment shorted out due to rising water. She was rescued by Outrigger executive Chuck Rolles, who paddled in on a surfboard to get her out of the small space remaining between the water and the ceiling.

Courtney became such a crucial part of Outrigger founder Roy Kelley’s now-global hotel brand that she is featured in a part of the book “Kelleys of the Outrigger,” by the late John W. McDermott.

Born in Honolulu but raised on Hawaii island, Mildred Quintal was the daughter of the owner of the Quintal Dairy on the site of what later became the Waialae Drive-in Theater, according to the book.

In the book, Courtney spoke honestly about Roy Kelley’s gruff personality and how she was determined to deal with it.

And deal with it she did, to the point she became Roy Kelley’s “go-to” person, said Carey.

From switchboard operator she rose to the chief operator position, figuring out along the way how to track down Roy Kelley no matter where he was.

She became the company’s first guest relations manager, rose to hotel manager, then to vice president overseeing the three Waikiki Surf properties and the Malia. She was elevated to the government-military liaison directorship after 35 years with the company, earning even more stripes in her next 25 years with Outrigger.

Courtney and her service to the company truly hark back to a different era in the hospitality industry, Carey said, adding that there is no one else quite like her. “She’s special,” he said.

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