Interviewee: Robert May
Interviewer: Deborah Hendrix
Date: March 12, 2004
H: I'm at the home of Mr. Robert May. We're going to be talking about his work
experience at Sea Island, Georgia. Can you state your full name for us?
M: [My name is] Robert J. May.
H: Where were you born?
M: I was born in Houston, Texas.
H: What year was that?
H: Where were your parents from?
M: My mother was from Texas, and my father was from Wyoming.
H: And what were their names?
M: My mother's name was Hesta, Brown was her maiden name, and my father was
Joe L. May.
H: What did your father do?
M: During World War II, he was involved in oil exportation; finding oil in Illinois
working for an independent oil company out of Texas. After World War II, he
went to manufacturing lawn mowers. When he passed away, he was in the lawn
H: Did your mom work outside the home?
M: She worked with his business with the lawn mowers, and then worked outside
the home after he passed away.
H: Do you think that your mother or your father was the bigger influence in your life
in what you did?
M: Well, definitely my mother [was the bigger influence] because my father passed
away when I was fifteen. So she was the biggest part of my life after that for sure.
H: She encouraged you in what you wanted to do, or she just was there to support
M: I think she encouraged participation in things that you would normally do. For an
example, I graduated high school in 1956, [and] there wasn't any question that I
was going to graduate from high school; that wasn't an option. Then I went to
college, and there wasn't an option that I wasn't going to finish in four years. I
never dreamed not to go to college. So she more or less set rules and
groundwork to where you just kind of channeled into things.
H: She insisted that you go ahead and get your college education?.
M: Well, I don't know that she insisted, it was just that I didn't know I had an option
not to. [laughing]
H: Okay, well, I think that's a pretty good influence in your life. Did you go to school
in Houston there?
M: No, I finished high school in Routen, Alabama, [in] 1956, and finished the
University of Alabama in 1960.
H: What was your degree at the University of Alabama?
M: I had a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management.
H: When you started college, was where you were aiming, something in that area?
Was that your interest?
M: Well, I entered the school of commerce and business administration, and then
after a year or two then I chose that major. Junior and senior year you kind of
concentrated in [in that major].
H: Now we'll move on to Sea Island. What year were you hired at Sea Island? Do
M: No, I don't remember, but I wrote that down. I was hired in August 1973.
H: From Alabama, how did you come to apply for a job at Sea Island? How did you
M: Well, I don't know that I applied for the job, it's more that the job came to me.
We'd moved to Brunswick [Georgia] and I'd worked for a company here that
folded. So my wife went to work for the first time then, and she started working as
a waitress at the King and Prince, and I started working for the King and Prince
Hotel. Then Sea Island kind of approached us as a team to go to work for them
by contacts we had in church.
H: So that's when you were hired, in the engineering and maintenance department?
M: Yes, I was hired in the engineering and maintenance department as a storeroom
clerk and a purchaser of materials for the engineering department. My wife was
hired in the dining room as a waitress.
H: Oh, so your wife worked at Sea Island as well then.
M: Indeed, she did.
H: Oh, well, it seems like I need to interview her too.
M: Well, you could.
H: I need to interview some women.
M: Maybe you'd like to talk to her about it; although she worked back in 1973, she
didn't work in the whole career. But if that would help you, talk to her.
H: Sea Island approached you then, and they felt you were pretty qualified for the
job, so you didn't have to go through all the interview process. They just asked
you to come over and you just started to work.
M: Well, I was asked by the personnel department to come over, and I did talk to the
director of engineering and maintenance [and] the director of purchasing, but it
was my job to lose rather than my job to obtain.
H: [The interview] was just basically a formality.
M: Absolutely. They hired me, put me to work, and a year after that they asked me
to fill out an employee application.
H: Oh, so they were needing some good workers then.
M: Well, they did things different back then. You could do things probably different
back in 1973 than you can do in 2003.
H: What was your pay was when you first started?
M: Back in 1973, I started at, I believe it was, $200 a week, and $800 a month.
H: In the 1970s, that was a pretty good paycheck.
M: Well, I'm not too sure they hired me, it's more they hired my wife [laughing].
H: You were just a perk, huh?
M: No, we both had skills that they wanted.
H: Well, they have an image [at Sea Island Company], and I wanted to ask you
about that. When you first started, did they explain any kind of image that they
wanted to project, any way they wanted you to dress or approach the guests for
instance, that you can remember?
M: In 1973, no. Debbie, in her job in the dining room, went through some of that. But
actually my job in engineering and maintenance was never designed to be a
face-on with the guests, even in later years when the job grew. If I was seen by
the guests, then we were in big trouble. It was rare, and we did everything to
avoid anybody behind the scenes [being seen]. We really didn't like our troops,
electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, and all those, to be involved with the
guests because when we were involved there was generally something wrong.
We had to get in and out as courteously and fast as we could without being over
pushy and to make sure the guests were satisfied. So my involvement was
through other people with the guests rather than directly with the guests. But
that's where the job developed. Initially [it] was just on the job training; [I was] just
put in a job and [it was a] go make it what you want kind of thing, [of course] with
certain limits and perimeters and stuff.
H: That makes sense that they would want to keep the mystique of a trouble free
environment for the guests. I wanted to ask you about your first day on the job. Is
there anything that you remember that was particularly stressful that day?
M: It's been so long ago, but I think it was probably stressful. Any first day on the
job, I think, would probably be stressful. Particularly [because] I had no training or
anything, I just didn't know what the procedures were and that type of thing,
which I learned, which put a lot of stress [on me], but it wasn't all that stressed
because everybody's very helpful and encouraging and this type of thing. So I
didn't feel threatened when I say I was [stressed].
H: Did you think that your degree helped you in any way on that job? Is there
anything you learned from college that really came in handy other than just a
M: I don't really feel that education is any way of a hindrance to anybody. In fact, it
gives you more of a perspective and understanding of different disciplines and
this type of thing. So in my degree of industrial management, [it] was mainly to
get objectives and goals attributed through other people, so I think that helped
me and I think it helped me get the job. It opened the door that you always hear
about, and I think that was a contributing factor.
H: So after a few weeks, was there anything that surprised you about the job, or
was it pretty much what you expected?
M: No, it was not what I expected it to be because prior to my working for Sea
Island, I'd worked for_ Corporation in Pensacola, Florida, which was a
manufacturer of nylon, and it was a 7,000 employee operation. Probably Sea
Island, back in that time, was maybe [a] 700 or 800 [person] operation. The job I
was in was a supervisor in what they called the draw twist department. We were
machine-paced. We had draw twist machines that ran 86-75 and we were
machine-paced. So when taking that experience and applying it to engineering,
we were much more casual and the pressure of meeting a machine deadline
[was not as stressful]. Machines, I know this is not about Sea Island, but the
machines were paced in fifteen minute segments, so you was either on schedule
or off within fifteen minutes, whereas it was much more relaxed out at Sea Island.
H: The people you worked with that had been there for awhile, did they seem
satisfied with their position and their jobs?
M: I think overall that people were satisfied or they wouldn't be there. So yes, I think
they were satisfied, although they might not verbally want to admit that at all
times. [They] were always dissatisfied with something, but [overall they were
H: How did you do your lunches and breaks?
M: They have an employee's cafeteria out there and you had thirty minutes to go to
lunch. When I first started, I think it was you could eat five meals, it seems like,
for $2.14 a week. Or you could eat seven meals, you could eat out there on
Saturday and Sunday if you wanted to. You used to pay by the week, and I think
it was $2.14. It was good meals. A lot of the meals, the desserts and stuff, were
maybe leftover from the day before, and some of the food was left over, but a lot
of it was fresh cooked. They had fried chicken and all kind of good stuff. That
fried chicken was always a good day because that was fresh cooked, we knew
H: That sounds like a good deal.
M: You used to go through there and you used to serve yourself, they didn't have
any servers, so you could get [as much as you wanted]. [Laughing.]
H: Was this the middle of the day, then, when you have your lunch?
M: Oh, yes, we started lunch, I think the cafeteria opened at 10:45 and closed at
1:00, so you had two hours to eat lunch.
H: [That is a good benefit] I would think.
M: It still is. Shortly after you quit paying by the week and you started paying by the
items, and when I left, you could have a pretty good lunch, you could have a
great lunch, for anywhere from $1.50 to $2.00. You also had the benefit of taking
your family too, so when I was younger and my children were younger, we used
to go out there after church. They put on an extra special Sunday dinner and I
could feed the whole family for $5.00-that's myself, my wife, and two
children-after church. So we did that occasionally.
H: What were your [work] hours? Did you work days?
M: I was very fortunate, I worked from 8:00-4:30, Monday through Friday. Outside of
that, I worked two Saturdays through twenty-five years of service, so I worked
8:00-4:30, Monday through Friday.
H: You retired from Sea Island, then, after twenty-five years?
M: Indeed, I did.
H: So that would have been 1996?
M: [It was] 1998, August 1998.
H: What was your job title? If you had a title, what would it be?
M: I don't know that I had a title. I guess I had a title because I wrote my own job
description, but it was a coordinating of the engineering department work request
that required eight hours or less to do. Anything that required eight hours or more
went to another individual because that was probably going to be [dealing with]
contractors and [have] other things involved. So I kind of coordinated that, and I
also bought the material, so my job title would be probably a buyer and
H: That brings me to my next question, can you describe exactly what were your job
responsibilities at Sea Island?
M: My number one responsibility was to make sure that the guests were satisfied.
Whatever they requested was done to their satisfaction. In fact, we had a rule
that even if a guest perceived that there was something wrong, we had to deal
with that to turn them around to where it wasn't a problem, that we could
convince them that we had done something to correct it. It was always guest
satisfaction. There were all other means that we used to do this. Now there was
a limit to guest satisfaction. For example, we wouldn't do anything that would
harm them or harm the hotel. An example would be [that] a guest at one time
wanted the sprinkler system disconnected in his room, and we would not do that.
For some reason he wanted that done and we would not do that. But that's rare,
very rare, that we wouldn't attempt to directly satisfy a guest. So guest
satisfaction, I guess, was job number one.
H: It seems to be their motto on Sea Island. But you would never really come face to
face with a guest. You were always behind the scenes.
H: They would make their request to the desk clerk or somebody, and then they
would come to you?
M: Normally most of our requests were channeled through the housekeeping
department. However, sometimes guests would call me directlyy. But it came
from housekeeping [or] the front desk. We didn't care where it came from, as
long as it was channeled to me as far as the engineering [was concerned], so
that it could be properly distributed and followed up on. Sometimes we got written
memorandums and that type of thing, but we preferred to be called by telephone
so that we could get on the problem right away rather than somebody write it
down and send it through the hotel mail where we might get it the next day.
[That's for] anything that required eight hours or less, now. Somebody that did
more than eight [hours], we encouraged them to write [it down] and it went
somewhere else. But we wanted to strike while our iron was hot.
H: What kinds of problems did you commonly deal with?
M: The top problems that I dealt with mainly was [things] like a toilet [being] stopped
up, showers dripping, curtains falling down, locks not working, little refrigerators
in their room not working, headboards loose, just whatever, wallpaper peeling. [It
was] that type of thing.
H: So it was just a really broad spectrum of things that you were required to deal
with. Now the Cloister, that's the oldest building of Sea Island, isn't it?
M: Not anymore; I understand it's torn down.
H: Yes, I understand they were tearing it down.
M: It's my understanding-now you've got to remember I haven't been out there in
five years, and you lose contact real quick, in fact I haven't been on Sea Island
maybe in two years myself-but it's my understanding they have torn the main
hotel building, which was the oldest building at the time. So I don't know what
would be the oldest building [now]. The River House was torn down, which was
an old building. They built the hotel first, then they added the River House.
H: So I would think that the Cloister, it was built in, I think, 1928, or at least part of
it . .
M: It opened in 1928.
H: I would think that it would be a maintenance nightmare with all the old wiring and
the old plumbing. Did they update that over the years?
M: Well, of course the wiring and plumbing and all that was updated along the way,
but you're right, it was absolutely a nightmare. But what the rooms that were built
for in 1928 were not what people necessarily expected in 2000. Although guests
did seem to appreciate that type of an atmosphere, so it wasn't necessarily a
downsize to it, but it was hard to maintain over the years and it was really a
nightmare. It was really expensive to keep it up. I think one thing that's unusual,
and you might address this later on, we actually found that the hotel guests, most
of them, really took a personal interest [in the hotel]; they bought into the hotel.
They would call up and actually be apologetic. [They'd say,] I hate to report this,
but... we really encouraged that because if they took interest in it then we got
this thing brought to our attention much faster than somebody just having a
problem and walking out and not telling anybody. [So] they actually bought into it,
and this we felt was very good.
H: Yes, I think I'll ask a little bit about that later. I just want to ask one more thing
about your job responsibilities, but is Sea Island self- contained as far as their
sewage treatment and their water? Do they have their own well and things like?
M: The water system is all Sea Island owned and maintained. The sewage system is
done by the county.
H: Okay, I was just curious about that. Is there anything over your twenty-five years
that really stands out, an unusual event that you had to tackle, maybe a [problem
with a] guest?
M: We had cottages down the drive, [so] there would be cottage 222 and there
[would] be a room 222. One time I had a guy call me and he says, I just bought
222, and I made the assumption that he bought cottage 222. He says, my toilet is
stopped up, and I told him that he would have to go to the yellow pages and hire
an outside plumber to unstop his toilet. He said-he knew that there was
something not right-but he said, I can't believe that I'm paying $600 a night and
I've got to hire my own plumber. It finally dawned on me that he was a guest, but
he felt like he'd paid so much money that he'd bought the room, which was really
good because he claimed ownership of the room, and when they claim
ownership then that's good.
H: That's an interesting way of looking at it. That's pretty funny.
M: I thought that was rather humorous; it wasn't humorous at the time.
H: No, but I can see how it would be now. In your work, you had good leeway as to
how you get things done. Do you think the company encouraged you to take your
own initiative, or did they have a set of guidelines that you should go by?
M: Generally speaking, we had unlimited resources to satisfy the guests. Of course
there might be some limits to what [we could do]. If a fellow had a problem with
his windows, we might not tear out his windows and put new windows in while he
was occupying that room, there was some limitation, but if there was a real
problem, then there would be windows next time he came in there if he had
pointed out something that needed attention. But most of the time, for the type
problems [we had]-remember we're talking about the little nitty-gritty problems
that aren't the huge things-we could buy or do whatever we wanted to to get that
H: So they gave you a pretty good [leeway]. You took things on your own initiative
and they encouraged that.
M: Absolutely. They encouraged that they wanted results and not reasons for not
obtaining the results. They wanted results, and we gave them results.
H: That's a nice atmosphere to work in. I wanted to ask you a little bit about the
character of the company and changes you might have seen. Start back in 1973,
when you started, were there any remnants of segregation within the company?
Were there separate facilities for African-Americans or separate entrances? Was
there anything like that that you remember?
M: No, [there was none of that].
H: There was not. So by 1973, all that was just gone.
M: Yes, [it was gone].
H: That's pretty progressive for a real southern tradition.
M: Of course you do realize, I understand in the past of that, they did have those
type of facilities.
H: They did. I'm sure if I could interview anybody from the 1960s I would find
evidence of segregation, but after civil rights' acts in 1964 there was still
discrimination even so.
M: But not when I joined the company.
H: [But it was] not when you joined the company. All that was already in the past. In
the employee cafeteria that you were talking about, did the African-Americans
eat in there as well? Did everybody eat in there?
M: Yes, although at one time they did have a white and colored [sections]. I believe
when I got there, the colored section had been turned into some type of
H: So by 1973, everyone was eating together. Since Sea Island is a family-owned
company, did you ever feel like you had access to the owner, I think that would
be one of the Jones's, could you just walk in his office if you had something to
say or something to ask?
H: You could not?
M: I did not feel like I had that kind of access.
H: There was a hierarchy.
M: Well, there was certainly a hierarchy, but while some people might feel like they
had that type of access, I felt like there was a failure somewhere in myself and
the organization if I ever had to go to that. So they went through channels, you
might say. I just never felt like I had that type of access.
H: If you had a problem within your department you wanted to get addressed, you
had to submit some kind of request.
M: But I never had a problem within the department that I either didn't get what I
wanted or I was able to accept whatever decision was made and move on.
H: That's interesting. I ask that question because Sea Island portrays itself as a big
M: Some people may feel like they had that access, but I didn't.
H: You would think in a family that everyone should be able to walk through that
door if they had a question. You never had any occasion to even do that you
M: Well, you've got to remember, there's a lot of people who can't measure up to the
demands that are put on you out there too. So not everybody that was hired
would necessarily stay as long as you would think. There was a lot of demands
put on people that they weren't able or willing to measure up to. There might
have been a lot of people being dissatisfied that might have went to the Jones's,
but there was never anything that came of that.
H: There was never really a question of who was in charge of that company?
M: Oh, no, [there was] never a question of who's in charge.
H: It was just one guy at the top. There were not any unions in that company were
M: [There were] no unions and no talk of unions.
H: That was totally discouraged, I would think, in that atmosphere.
M: I'm sure it was discouraged, but I don't know that the problem at the level I was
ever on, and I was working with the people who probably would be most
unionized, is there was never a discussion about it.
H: No union representatives came in to talk to you?
M: Not that I'm aware of.
H: Like you say, that would be the area they'd come into, I would think.
H: Now I wanted to ask you something that I read in some literature about the company, and
that's about the TV's. The TV episode, where they say they didn't even put TV's in until
the mid 1980s, is that true?
M: That's true.
H: Do you know what the reason was for that?
M: Maybe [it was] before [the] 1980s; I'm not sure when we put them in. It's my
understanding that Mr. Jones Sr. said that if people were in their rooms watching TV,
then Sea Island was a failure in keeping them occupied rather than television. It was
always felt among the troops that that was a good philosophy, but he also failed to
mention that they were out spending money if they weren't in their rooms, and there
might have been some of that. It was a real tough decision on top management to put
them babies [televisions] in there, and then it was an absolutely terrible job to put them in
because you had to run cables and stuff in that old hotel that didn't have crawl space.
You just couldn't run a cord down the wall. It was a major undertaking, a major expense
to put them in, but it was done when decided.
H: So finally the powers that be up there finally gave in or caved in.
M: Well, of course Mr. Jones Sr. passed away before then, and then Mr. Jones Jr. was in
charge. It was, I gather, at his decision.
H: I think that's an interesting episode in the history of Sea Island, but that was something
that would take more than eight hours, so that was something that was contracted out.
M: That was done on a contract basis, absolutely.
H: Was there ever a time when you were working for Sea Island that they did any layoffs for
any reason that you remember?
M: Yes, when I first went there, and I alluded to my wife being in the dining the room, they
had layoffs in the off season, which was something around maybe after New Year's until
the first of March or somewhere like that. What was unusual about that [is] that people
volunteered for layoffs, and the most senior got the layoff. They started at senior and
worked down. You couldn't, if you was a junior like my wife, get laid off. The reason
people wanted laid off is they got to draw unemployment. They also didn't have to go
down, initially, to the unemployment office; they just had some setup in personnel where
you go up there and pick up your check up, because everybody understood it was a like a
six weeks layoff and that type of thing. Rather than laying off the junior person, it was
the most senior [who] would take six weeks' vacation and get his unemployment or in
most cases [that's what happened].
H: One reason would be they get a lot less unemployment than they would be at full pay
there. I would think that would save the company a little bit of money.
M: Now after maybe the first year or two when I was there we had no layoffs in the
engineering department at all, but when I first got there, there was a man who was
working in the boiler room who had actually grown up at Sea Island. His mother and
daddy both worked at Sea Island back when they had married couples dormitories that
you alluded to earlier. They had a double dorm in which they allowed married couples to
live in. He actually lived in that dorm, so he just kind of worked into the job and he was
working in the boiler room. He agreed to be laid off, he was single, so that a man that
was going to be laid off that had a family would have a job. I thought that was very
courageous of this individual. Later he came back to work at Sea Island, maybe a year,
and went to school himself while he was working and trained himself as an air
conditioning technician, and today he's the head air conditioning technician out there.
He's had, on his last leg, maybe about twenty-five years [of] service now, because he
broke his service when he went in there.
H: When they would get these layoffs, would that interrupt their service?
H: It would not.
M: Then after the first year or two, we went into a maj or project of remodeling rooms during
the off season, which required us to actually have more workers than we needed by
contract. This was handled by contract.
H: That's interesting. In your department, maintenance, that's ongoing all the time, so
you're not effected so much by laying off.
M: When the hotel occupancy was the lowest was when we did our most work.
H: Really? And what is the off season, would you think?
M: The off season most of the time when I was there was the period between after
Thanksgiving until Christmas. They had a big Christmas and [it] tied over to New Year's.
Then after New Year's, when we could do the most maintenance was between January
and February. By March 1, every room had to be back and on line. It was really hard
sometimes to get rooms because people took ownership of rooms like I alluded to before.
They stayed in 222 the last thirty years, and they wanted 222, and we had it down for
H: That was something I was going to ask you about. Some of these guests would come
back year after year, right?
M: Some of them would come from, back when it first started, for three months.
H: Is that right?
M: Some of them, a few, not a whole lot back then. They more or less winter down there,
maybe half a dozen back in the early 1970s.
[End of side Al]
H: We're on the last set of questions. In this part I will be asking about your personal
observations, and some things that Sea Island likes to project and see what you have to
say about that. There's one more thing that I wanted to ask you about the G-8 Summit
[international conference] that's coming up in June and it's going to be on Sea Island. Do
you think Sea Island [considers the event to be] a big accomplishment for them? Do you
think they are aiming for international recognition?
M: Absolutely, no doubt about that. They would definitely be a big winner.
H: How do you think they managed to host the G-8 Summit?
M: Actually, I do not know how the intricate [details] of that type of thing works. You'll
have to quote somebody else on that. I don't know how they managed to swing it.
H: It seems like a coup to be able to do that.
M: I think so. I can just imagine [them] planting oak trees out there. They have a place where
they have oak trees, and they had presidents that stayed on Sea Island planted an oak. So
Mr. [George H. W.] Bush [U.S. President, 1989-1993] Sr.'s got an oak, [and] Mr.
[George W.] Bush [U.S. President, 2001-present] Jr. will put his oak out there. We also
heads of states [with trees], so I imagine they'll try to get all those heads of states to plant
an oak. I don't know that, but I can imagine that. I think it's probably publicity from the
circles that Sea Island wants their clientele to come from. They'll probably get publicity
in that circle that you would never get anywhere else. Although you do have to remember
that a lot of people come to Sea Island that are active plumbers and electricians and stuff
up North, where they make lots of money, these types of people. Occasionally you'll find
a plumber down there that's been enjoying Sea Island's hospitality.
H: If you were working out there right now, do you think your department would be really
busy with [the G-8 Summit]?
M: Oh, absolutely. Engineering is generally involved in most everything that happens
usually before it occurs and then after it. We try not to be seen during an event, if
possible, which is not always possible. But yes, we'd be involved. I was out there when
President Bush Sr. came out and stayed, and we were definitely involved in that.
H: When was that, was that during his presidency?
M: Yes, he was president. There was a lot of secret service people around about starting
maybe two weeks before he arrived, and then more and more would come. I noticed the
younger secret service people would arrive early, and then the closer to him coming, the
more seasoned secret service would come about two days before the big man got there. It
was an interesting time to me.
H: I bet. And did you see him? Did he walk around and play golf?
M: I didn't see him at all.
H: He probably stayed in his room and watched TV.
M: He actually had two rooms in the Harrington House, connecting rooms, and one of the
rooms was cleared out and he had treadmills and some stuff put in like that. They had the
South Hampton, which was twelve rooms. He was due in on Saturday morning, I believe,
and stayed until Monday. At 3:00 PM Friday, the Secret Service closed down the
Harrington House, meaning full security tied around it. There were still guests staying
in the other portions of it, but they locked it down at 3:00 PM on Friday. So you could go
up to that point in and out without being inhibited. We was required to build a type of
platform up on the Harrington House so that the Secret Service could stand up there
with binoculars and high-powered rifles and look the perimeter over. There was just a
whole lot of stuff [we had to do]. We had to have designated plumbers and electricians
and stuff, I don't think they were actually checked out by the Secret Service, but we had
to designate people, and only these people could enter that perimeter and that type of
thing. Of course we was there when President [Jimmy] Carter [1977-1981] was there as
well, but Mr. Carter stayed down the drive so we weren't quite involved in that as we
would have been when he stayed in the hotel.
H: Did he have a cottage?
M: No, but he had his guy [who was] the head of the budget department, what do you call
H: Was it Baker?
M: He come under some criticism, and Mr. Carter no longer stayed in his cottage and moved
over to a place over on St. Simon's.
H: Right, the Musgrove Plantation.
M: [Yes,] the Musgrove Plantation.
H: Right, I remember that. I remember him coming with all the Secret Service. Of course, I
remember when he came here when he was governor [of Georgia, 1971-1974]. He would
come to St. Simon's and stay, again, with his friends here. But anyway, we got off the
subject. Let's see, I've got a few more questions here. Since Sea Island has been out there
so long, did you ever feel like you had a sense of its tradition? Was there a feeling that
you were part of an institution?
M: Well, at the time I was out there, we were [rated] a five star, five diamond hotel. The
major portion of it, perhaps twenty of my twenty-five years was that. [It was] first after
I'd been there a year or two that we obtained the five stars [rating], and then another year
or two we obtained the five diamonds [ratings]. Then later on we lost the five diamonds
[rating]. One of the major reasons that we lost the five diamonds is that the rooms in the
hotel and the River House were too small, and the bathrooms were too small. They
wanted so many square footage, which was great back in 1928, but you're talking in the
mid 1980s or so, or early 1980s, and the requirements of being a five diamond [hotel]
changed. So they lost the five diamond and went to four diamond [rating], and the
company made a decision that if you couldn't have five diamonds, we weren't going to
play in your ballfield. So we no longer "played," so we're not listed at all in the
diamonds. [When] I came there they had four [stars], and it wasn't shortly after I came
there they got the five stars, then when I left they lost their first star. But of course I
didn't have anything to do with it. Then the next year they lost another star, or the next
year or two. I don't know where they stand right now.
H: So it was just a matter of space, it wasn't any kind of service problem or anything, it was
just the standards had changed over the years.
M: You took pride, I took pride and most people took pride, of having a five diamond, five
star hotel, which is very, very rare that you had the contributions to make that.
H: Yes, because you contributed to that in your work.
M: Everybody contributed. If everybody didn't contribute, it didn't happen.
H: Do you think that this area would have grown in a different way if Sea Island hadn't been
there? Do you think Sea Island played a big hand in the way this whole area developed?
M: Oh, absolutely, I think there's no question about that. They started the first zoning, as I
understand it. The county had one of the first zoning ordinances in the United States. I'm
not sure about that, but they had one of the first. The company had their own electrical
power system and they started a phone system over here. They had a bus company from
Savannah [Georgia] and Jacksonville [Florida] to bring guests in here and had a bus
company and all that. Of course, that was way before I got there, and then they sold the
power system to Georgia Power, and the phone system to Southern Bell. But I understand
the power generator was somewhere along the airport property, or close to it.
H: Sea Island was certainly here before the development.
M: It still influences a lot of activities.
H: Right, because they have a lot of property. If you look at the map, the Sea Island property
takes up a lot of St. Simon's Island.
M: Absolutely, [they] have a lot of undeveloped property.
H: Yes, that they're holding in their land bank. One of the questions I wanted to ask is that
Sea Island literature says it has one of the highest employee retention rates in the
industry. I was wondering, why do you think that is?
M: I think first, people take pride in that they work for a first-class outfit. The hotel industry
is not known for their high wages. Within the industry itself, Sea Island probably pays
one of the highest wages of that, and that helped retain [employees], and [they have]
fringe benefits. When I came in 1973 and when I left, all my health insurance was
furnished by the company. I never paid a nickel for it. So as the years went by, that
benefit grew higher and higher. [So it's got great] fringe benefits, and regular working
hours. I always said that no matter what I thought or happened at Sea Island, that one
thing they always did, they always paid me on time and they always paid me what they
said they would. There wasn't any waffling about it. To me that was worth something
[because of] having a family and all that.
H: You have that stability that you could count on.
M: Sure did.
H: So looking back over your years of working for Sea Island, what do you think, overall,
was your biggest challenge in your work?
M: The challenge was to stay motivated to deliver five star service everyday, day in and day
H: That is something that I can see would be ongoing. Do you think that there's one thing
that you might have done for Sea Island all your years that nobody else would have done
in your position?
M: I probably brought accountability to the work order system in engineering. When I got
there, they had no accountability. Work orders were called into the front office and they
were taken, hung on a rack out in the shops, and the wind might have blown them off or
the engineers were able to pick and choose what they wanted. So I brought it together in
one central office with the chief engineer. We set priorities, and then I applied them to
what priority we went and this type of thing. I think that was a major contribution to [Sea
H: You reorganized a little bit.
M: I had to set up the system and develop it. Of course it was a constantly [changing thing].
Just because we set it up last year one way, then we may have to make some adjustments
to it and make it fit the thing. So current application [was involved]. That was a major
accomplishment, I thought.
H: When you left, they were still following what you had developed. That's something to
feel good about. If your son or your daughter wanted to work for Sea Island, would you
M: Well, they both have.
H: They both already have.
M: They both worked there, but they were on a temporary summer type job thing. But they
H: Is there anything that you'd like to add that I didn't cover in all this and you feel might be
important to record.
M: I can remember back in the early 1970s, when they had the gas crisis and the price of gas
went up, and there were several properties on Sea Island that we had to shut down
because a lack of gas, I'm thinking in terms of Sea Palms and in terms of the Island Club.
[We had to] cease operation because people weren't coming because the price of gas at
Sea Island was able to operate. Mr. Jones Sr., I understand, said that the reason Sea
Island made this crisis so well is that they didn't owe anybody, they didn't have any debt.
It makes me wonder now with all the development of Sea Island and they're doing it, I
imagine they probably have debt now where they didn't have it back then. So it'll be
interesting to see how that works out.
H: Yes, because their policy is to go slow and that way they don't go into debt, but maybe
that's changing now that they're trying to revamp their image.
M: But I don't know that.
H: All right, well thank you very much Mr. May. We are done.
[End of the interview.]