My Hero, Stephen


No parent should have to see their child die, and those who do are members of a club that no one wants to belong to. Donna and I lost our dear son, Stephen, this week at the age of 54. He had been diagnosed in his teens with a rare mitochondrial disease that slowly cost him his eyesight, his hearing, his strength, and finally, his life. Yet during all those decades since his diagnosis, we remained hopeful that the doctors would find a cure.

Stephen is one of my great heroes, because he never allowed his disease to get in the way of his ambition or his passions. He went to Brigham Young University, then got his master's degree in business administration at Arizona State University in Phoenix. He married Julie, the girl of his dreams, and they had three gorgeous children and five beautiful grandchildren.

He worked his way up in our company from summer jobs in high school, starting as a cook at the Bethesda, Md., Roy Rogers Restaurant, to his last position as Executive Vice President for Culture at Marriott International. Stephen led our Marriott Worldwide Business Councils, and was responsible for perpetuating the company's core values and culture.

He was a terrific inspiration to all of us every day as he came to work to champion the values that my parents established when they opened their root beer stand in Washington in 1927. He was completely convinced that the company culture was our greatest competitive advantage with customers and associates. He was passionate about the core values of putting people first and providing opportunities for everyone in the company.

Growing up, no job was too small for Stephen, who worked on the front desk, in housekeeping, banquets, marketing, sales, accounting; and he later ran one of our hotels in Maryland. I remember how proud he was when he became the general manager of the Bethesda Marriott in 1991.

In 2004, he received the company's highest honor, the J. Willard Marriott Award of Excellence. And last month, he received the top award for the Marriott Worldwide Business Councils, renamed the Stephen G. Marriott Leadership Award.

Stephen was also active in his community, serving on the Washington Council of the Boy Scouts of America and various boards representing people with disabilities, including the American Foundation for the Blind, which named him a recipient of the Helen Keller Achievement Award in 2008. He served on the board of the American Speech, Hearing and Language Association Foundation and the National Institutes of Deafness and Communication Disorders. He also served on family foundations, including the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation and the Marriott Foundation for People With Disabilities.

Stephen also supported his college through the BYU Marriott School of Management Alumni Board and the BYU Management Society, Washington, D.C., Chapter.

He was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When he was 19, he served a mission for two years in British Columbia, and held a number of church positions throughout his life. I know how much his faith fortified him during his illness.

He was a master teacher. He taught sales school for the company for many years and Sunday school for at least 15 years. I recall his writing the names on the blackboard of the 12 Tribes of Israel in a Sunday school lesson. He wrote them down from memory. I asked him, "How in the world can you remember all those names?" He said he'd learned them in high school at St. Albans and always remembered them.

Donna and I are so proud of him, as are his brothers, John and David, and his sister, Debbie. We are so grateful to Julie, who has given him such wonderful support for 32 years. And we're proud of their three wonderful children, Jennifer, Ashley and Blake, and five grandchildren. We know Stephen has earned a special spot in heaven, and we will miss him deeply.

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