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On Father’s Day, the day before my friend Felix Rappaport passed suddenly, I spoke with him on the phone. I didn’t say all of the things I wish I had said, had I known it would be the last talk we would have. The first time we met was by phone, as well.

In 1986, Felix was Director of Human Resources at Philadelphia’s Hershey Hotel. I was pitching my services as a recruiter. He didn’t hire me that day, but we would eventually become good friends with a long-standing professional relationship. Ten years later, I would recruit Felix for Station Casinos in Nevada—his first VP/GM gig.

No need to list his achievements in our industry. I will leave that to his biographers. He was a major player who took on every role at the top and exceeded everyone’s expectations. He was in every way a superstar executive.

When you reach that pinnacle of success, you usually have made a significant group of enemies—but not Felix. He was truly respected, appreciated, and loved.

Our Family Connection

Over the decades our relationship expanded — we visited one another’s homes and became friends. In 2005, when my youngest son, Laurent, was christened at a mass at the San Lorenzo Seminary in the Santa Ynez Valley, Felix became his godfather.

On a visit to New England just three years ago with Laurent and my oldest son, Dennis “Frank” Rizzo, II, we stayed several days at Foxwoods and got to see Felix in his element, at work. It was a delight to see how this man had grown to become a strong, admired, and respected leader.

Felix’s wife, Louise, and daughters Alexandra (Alex)and Brianna (Bri) were the most important people in his life. When I spoke to Louise to express my condolences, my heart was heavy for her loss, but I know that she is a strong woman and that will get her through.

Lessons Learned

As my career has evolved, a small handful of people have had an influence on me. None have been more important than my relationship with Felix Rappaport. We came up through the ranks, went in similar directions, and shared the highs and lows of the hospitality business.

Felix was able to balance his work and personal life. No matter how far he ascended in his professional life, he was always kind, generous, considerate, and most of all supportive. I can truthfully say that he was an important factor in my success, and I appreciated his guidance and friendship.

I learned that it’s possible to reach the top and still keep your friends close and maintain a strong family bond. That’s a lesson I learned from Felix, and one that I will never forget.

Farewell, Felix. I am certain that you will be on God’s executive team.