By Gary C. Sherwin
Vice President, Market Development Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority
Hobert Wehir, Doorman for the Lodge at Rancho Mirage,
2005 Frontline Person of the Year by the Palm Springs
Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority
Numerous Celebrity Encounters During 15 Years of Service
|February 15, 2005
Imagine this fantasy: You are a doorman for a luxury hotel in Rancho Mirage when supermodel Kathy Ireland arrives and sees your motorcycle chopper parked nearby.
She likes it so much that she wants to use the bike in her swimsuit calendar that she is in town shooting and invites you to come along.
After the shoot, and while she is still in her swimsuit, she is so appreciative of your generosity that she asks you if want some photos taken together while sitting on the bike. Later she even autographs one of them for you.
For most men, this is only a farfetched dream, but for Hobert Wehir, the doorman for the Lodge at Rancho Mirage, it was just another day at the office serving the needs of his guests.
Wehir, recently named 2005 Frontline Person of the Year by the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority for outstanding customer service, has enjoyed numerous celebrity encounters since he began his job nearly 15 years ago when the hotel was the Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage.
As the hotel’s official greeter, he has met people such as Anthony Hopkins, John Travolta and Bruce Springsteen who have all vacationed at the hilltop resort. One day several years ago, he said he suggested to then vacationing actor Arnold Schwarzenegger that he run for governor of California. The terminator paused for a moment and said, “I’ll think about it.”
That’s but one example of Wehir’s outgoing personality as well as a dedicated sense of service that endears him to guests, many of whom ask to have their photo taken with him before they leave.
His uncanny skill at remembering names of people, even though they may not have visited the resort in years, has created lifelong friends, not only among visitors, but the social and political establishment throughout the Palm Springs Desert Resorts. “Great treasures lie in human personalities,” he says, describing the variety of people he has met in his career.
Wehir, 59, is an engaging storyteller with enough wild adventures in his life to compile a book, which he is actually in the process of writing.
Born in Texas to a father of Mexican heritage and an Indian/German mother, Wehir, born Michael Wayne Reanes, led a nomadic childhood. He lived for awhile with his grandparents in San Antonio before his mother got remarried to an Air Force captain. His step father was wanted for alimony payments by his former wife and to escape the law, the family lived in a series of tents in several rural areas. He learned to ice fish in areas such as West Yellowstone where his step father could be undetected, although sheriff’s deputies eventually found him after knocking on the tent one day.
After his grandfather died in San Bernardino in 1958, the family moved to the Palm Springs area, where his mother got a job at the fabled Chi Chi club which was owned by Irwin Schuman. Although a youngster, Wehir hung around the club and was befriended by celebrities who performed there such as Nat King Cole and Jimmy Durante.
Schuman eventually gave the young boy a job filling water glasses and offering guests pads of butter and later offered to pay the family’s rent so they could stay in the area during the summer.
While going to school, Wehir later got a job as a dishwasher at the former Desert Air Hotel in Rancho Mirage and went on to several other jobs there while meeting more stars such as Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, who flew into the small adjacent airport, which is now the Marriott Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa.
He credits his life turning when he received a call from Ron Fletcher, who was then running the Thunderbird Country Club dining room. He offered Wehir $1 an hour plus tips to work for him.
Fletcher had a well-known reputation as an exacting and demanding boss wanting the guest experience to be perfect, says Wehir, which taught him valuable lessons he still uses today.
After serving in the Marines during the Vietnam era, Wehir came back and worked briefly at Fletcher’s new restaurant that he opened across the street from the Thunderbird, Lord Fletchers.
There he met luminaries such as Frank Sinatra, before moving on to a series of jobs in other restaurants as well as becoming a painter and a short stint as Frank Capra’s driver.
He would often drive the famed film director, who lived in La Quinta, to Los Angeles for engagements but had a tough time staying awake during the long commute. He eventually made a sign that he showed other drivers, which said, “Please help me stay awake and make me laugh.”
As a result, he had women flash him and other interesting encounters while on the road. One day while riding in the back, Capra, who didn’t know about the sign, looked out the window and said, “Driver, have you ever noticed how many loony people there are out here?”
In 1976, he had been studying the “science of characteristics,” and determined that his current name Michael Wayne Jarrett, which he took after he mother married the air force captain, didn’t “fulfill his potential,” before changing it to Hobert Wehir.
Motivated by his father’s destructive gambling habit, Wehir eventually got involved with politics and was a driving force to stop a proposed gaming initiative in Cathedral City in 1989.
He also helped Sonny Bono in his quest for mayor of Palm Springs and became the president of the local Jay Cees.
Meanwhile he went on to excel at his Ritz Carlton doorman position, which he got after a job tip from his son. He was named a “Five Star” employee, one of only five people a year named internationally by the company, in 1992.
Another example of Wehir’s beyond the call of service was when he planted an herb garden next to the hotel’s entryway that included aloe, which he offered to sooth sunburned guests as they were checking out.
Now married for 36 years and with two sons and five grandchildren, the days of welcoming guests at the Lodge may be coming to an end.
In April, Wehir is expected to get his real estate license. Once he says he sells a few homes and makes some money, he has notified the hotel he’ll be moving on.
Still, he has no regrets and says the opportunity to serve and meet so many people has been a priceless experience.
“Service to humanity is the best work of life,” he said.
Gary C. Sherwin
Vice President, Market Development
Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention
and Visitors Authority
70-100 Highway 111
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
Telephone: (760) 770-9000
Toll Free: (800) 967-3767
|Also See:||Palm Springs Desert Resorts; Our High Standards Do Not Include Rain in January / Tourism Column / Gary C. Sherwin / Februay 2005|
|It Isn’t Easy Being a Destination Advertiser These Days / Tourism Column / Gary C. Sherwin / January 2005|