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Paul Sonnabend, Former Sonesta Hotels President, Philanthropist
and Industry Mentor Dies at Age 83

November 2, 2010 - Boston, MA
– Paul Sonnabend, who spent 58 years with Sonesta International Hotels Corporation, believed you should leave the world a better place than you found it.  Mr. Sonnabend died Friday, October 29.  He was 83.

The middle son of A.M. and Esther Sonnabend, Mr. Sonnabend attended Phillips Exeter Academy, following which he spent two years in the Navy before attending Cornell’s School of Hotel Management.  In 1950, Mr. Sonnabend was appointed General Manager of The Shelton Hotel, in Boston, beginning a long career in the hospitality industry with Sonesta (known until 1970 as Hotel Corporation of America), the company founded by his father and which Paul ran with his brothers, Roger and Stephen.  Mr. Sonnabend held a number of positions with Sonesta, including more than 20 years as Sonesta’s President.

While hosting the wedding of a close friend at The Shelton, in 1950, Mr. Sonnabend met Gloria Aisenberg.  They married four months later.

From 1963-1965, Mr. Sonnabend operated The Plaza Hotel, in New York, then owned by Sonesta.  In addition to overseeing such events as Truman Capote’s legendary “Black & White Ball”, and visits by guests as diverse as the King of Morocco and The Beatles, Mr. Sonnabend booked acts for the Hotel’s famous Persian Room.  Mr. Sonnabend insisted that performers, including Robert Goulet, Vicki Carr and Eartha Kitt, perform for hotel staff in the employees’ cafeteria.  “No one ever objected”, he reported.  “They all loved doing it.”

In 1959, Mr. Sonnabend joined Billy Sullivan and eight other local businessmen to purchase the Boston franchise in a new sports venture:  the American Football League.  He remained a Vice President and Director of the Boston Patriots, then the New England Patriots, until the team was sold to Victor Kiam, in 1986. 

In the late 1970s, Mr. Sonnabend spent two years working for the National Football League as Executive Director of the NFL’s Management Council.  “Dad enjoyed working for the NFL”, said his son Peter J. Sonnabend.  “But after two years of dealing with money and labor issues, and owner egos, he was ready to return to his first love: the hotel business.”

Mr. Sonnabend was an avid sportsman and competitor who excelled in squash, tennis, golf and backgammon.  He also enjoyed taking his cabin cruiser, “Gloria”, on trips between Boston and Maine, as well as around Martha’s Vineyard where, for over 40 years, he and Gloria, his wife of 59 years, owned a summer home. 

Mr. Sonnabend’s role in the hospitality industry afforded him the opportunity to travel, something he and Gloria enjoyed.  Together they visited places around the globe, often accompanied by family or friends, and sometimes just the two of them.  Some of their travels brought unexpected adventure, such as when they found themselves in Moscow, in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in San Francisco during the 1989 earthquake. 

On one of his trips to Europe in the early 1960s, Mr. Sonnabend was impressed that the hotel where he was staying put chocolates on his pillow each night.  On his return home, The Plaza became the first U.S. hotel to provide chocolates with evening turndown service – a practice subsequently adopted throughout the industry.

Mr. Sonnabend was a life-long advocate for public service and was recognized as an expert on volunteerism.  He served as Treasurer of The National Easter Seals Society and as President of Call For Action.  President Johnson appointed him to the National Commission on Architectural Barriers, and President Nixon named him Vice Chairman and Director of the National Center for Voluntary Action.  In 1961, at the age of 34, he was named one of 10 outstanding young men of the year by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce for his business and public service achievements.  At various times, Mr. Sonnabend served in a number of non-profit organizations, including as a Director of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, a Trustee of Beth Israel Hospital, on the Board of Incorporators of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital, Director of the Boston Council – Navy League of the United States, Director of the Library of Presidential Papers (New York), Executive Board Member – Boston Council of Boy Scouts of America, Incorporator of the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank, Treasurer and Director of the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults, and President of the Easter Seal Society of Massachusetts, along with many others.

Sonesta and the hospitality industry were Mr. Sonnabend’s primary focus.  He not only operated and supervised hotels such as The Shelton, Somerset and Royal Sonesta Hotels, in Boston, and The Plaza in New York, he served as a mentor to others. "Paul Sonnabend was a gifted and passionate hotelier with the unique ability to masterfully balance quality and profitability," said Hans Wandfluh, President - Wandfluh Hotel Consulting, LLC and longtime Sonesta colleague. "Under his great leadership many young hoteliers were inspired to become the BEST managers in our business. Most of all we cherished and loved his outstanding sense of humor and his unwavering kindness and respect for all staff members."

Mr. Sonnabend was a devoted family man.  He and Gloria raised four children:  Jill Hazard, of West Newbury, MA; Peter J. Sonnabend, of Weston, MA; Tom Sonnabend, of Quincy, MA; and Kim Slater, of Brookline, MA.  He is survived by his wife, Gloria, his four children, daughter-in-law Karen Sonnabend, son-in-law Rob Hazard and four granddaughters:  Lauren A. Sonnabend, Kathryn L. Sonnabend, Julia Slater and Alex Slater.

Lorie Juliano
Sonesta International Hotels Corporation



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