Thomas “Tom” Walsh, a Bangor native who built one of the largest hotel management companies in the world and helped raise Maine’s stature as a premier destination for luxury hospitality, has died. He was 88.

Walsh was a self-made mogul whose first hotel in Brewer spawned an empire that stretches from Canada to Florida with additional properties in the Southwest. And while his last name may not be as synonymous with hospitality as Marriott or Hilton, Walsh’s contributions to the industry and the community have been no less significant, former colleagues said.

In this 2007 file photo, hotel developer Tom Walsh talks about his plans for the Maine State Pier.

“The whole thing about being a self-made individual, he certainly was that,” said Greg Dugal, director of government affairs at Hospitality Maine and former president and CEO of the Maine Innkeepers and Maine Restaurant associations. “Starting with basically nothing, and really turning it into an empire that most people don’t recognize.”

Walsh died Saturday surrounded by his family, according to his obituary on the Brookings-Smith funeral home website. A cause of death wasn’t given.

Walsh opened the Plaza Motel in Brewer in 1969, and from those modest beginnings he founded Ocean Properties, a hospitality development company that now boasts a portfolio of more than 100 hotels including many of New England’s most notable: the Samoset Resort in Rockport, the Bar Harbor Regency in Bar Harbor and Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle, New Hampshire.

In 2008, the Innkeepers Association presented its Special Service Award to Walsh for his lifetime of outstanding contributions to Maine’s hospitality industry.

Dugal said that even as Walsh’s hotel empire grew, he never forgot his Maine roots.

“He continuously invested in Maine,” Dugal said. “He was very big into the Mitchell Institute, and they had a big event every year here at the Marriott at Sable Oaks, which is an Ocean Properties (hotel), and they raised a ton of money for scholarships for Maine students.”

In 2006, Ocean Properties found itself at the center of a battle over development rights for a hotel complex along Portland’s waterfront, going toe-to-toe with rival Olympia Cos. The city eventually chose a $100 million plan from Olympia Cos. after a lengthy, politically charged debate, but the deal fell through. In 2009, the city then tried to negotiate with Ocean Properties, whose partners included former Sen. George Mitchell and Robert Baldacci, brother of former Gov. John Baldacci.

However, that deal fell apart over a dispute with the state over ownership of land beneath the Maine State Pier. Timing also was a contributor, as Ocean Properties already had several other projects underway by then and the advancing Great Recession gave most commercial developers pause.

BUILDING FROM SCRATCH

Walsh was born on Oct. 8, 1929, in Bangor to Frances “Paddy” and Beatrice Elliott Walsh.

Paddy Walsh was born in County Laois, Ireland, and in 1899 stowed away on a boat to Canada, eventually making his way to the United States. Over the years, the family remained close to and often visited their relatives in Ireland.

As a boy, Tom Walsh loved sports and was a good athlete. He graduated from Bangor High School and worked with his father as a traveling salesman selling goods door-to-door, according to his obituary. In the early 1960s, the father and son opened Bangor/Brewer Bedding Co. together on Wilson Street in Brewer prior to Tom Walsh opening his first hotel.

In 1969 he built the first franchised Holiday Inn in Maine.

From there, Walsh continued building hotels across North America – in Maine, Florida, Québec, British Columbia and throughout the southwestern U.S. Today the portfolio includes over 110 hotels, and it remains family-owned and operated by Walsh’s children. It includes hotels operating under the banners of Hilton, Marriott, Starwood and other well-known hotel chains.

When he was honored in 2006 for contributions he made to the University of New Hampshire’s hospitality program, Ocean Properties was ranked as the sixth-largest privately held hotel and development company in the U.S.

Walsh continued working in his office until his final days, according to his obituary.

Walsh was preceded in death by his daughter Mary. He is survived by his wife, Linda Walsh of Key West, Florida, and his children and their spouses – Michael Walsh of Delray Beach, Florida; Mark and Rebecca Walsh of Gulfstream, Florida; Billy Walsh of Delray Beach; Joseph and Suzanne (Walsh) Lanigan of Gulfstream; Patrick and Karen Walsh of Rye, New Hampshire; and Thomas and Heidi (Walsh) Varley of Portsmouth, New Hampshire – in addition to 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be held at 11 am. Wednesday at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, St. John’s Catholic Church, 217 York St. in Bangor, followed by the rite of committal at Mt. Pleasant Catholic Cemetery in Bangor.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations in Walsh’s memory be made to the Florida Keys SPCA Inc. animal shelter, 5230 College Road, Key West FL 33040 or The Mitchell Institute, 75 Washington Ave., Suite 2E, Portland ME 04101.

Condolences to the family may be expressed at BrookingsSmith.com.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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