Thomas Walsh, the Bangor native who built one of the largest privately held hotel companies in the United States, has died.
Walsh died of natural causes at Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire on Saturday, according to a spokeswoman at Brookings-Smith funeral home of Bangor. He was 88.
Walsh was a well-regarded and occasionally controversial figure whose business grew from a single hotel in Brewer to become Ocean Properties, Ltd. The company has in its portfolio more than 125 hotels and resorts in North America, including several hotels in Augusta, Bangor, Bar Harbor and Portland.
It employs more than 50,000 people, according to the company’s website. Former Gov. John Baldacci and his brother, former City Councilor Joe Baldacci, said that Walsh was always loyal to his roots.
“He used to sell hotel and restaurant supplies out of the back of a truck. He grew that into a million-dollar enterprise,” John Baldacci said, “and he never forgot Bangor.”
“He didn’t make a big deal about himself,” Joe Baldacci said. “He was a very confident guy, but he didn’t put on any airs, which is always nice with somebody who has become an international business success.”
It is perhaps a measure of Walsh’s impact upon Maine that the funeral home announced Monday that the family was changing the location of Wednesday’s funeral services from a smaller church to the 500-seat St. John’s Catholic Church of Bangor.
Walsh was a very hands-on business operator who became legendary for his rivalry with another well-known hotelier in Bar Harbor — David J. Witham of the Witham Family Partnership, which owned or had a controlling stake in 11 lodging properties in Hancock County.
Both aggressive businessmen, the feud might have begun when Witham unsuccessfully appealed the permit approval of Walsh’s plans for the Harborside Hotel in 2000. It continued through a series of lawsuits and competitive hotel purchases for at least 12 years. Witham predeceased Walsh by almost a year, dying at age 77 in November 2017.
Ocean Properties’ Maine holdings include the Bar Harbor Regency; Harborside Hotel in Bar Harbor; the Residence Inns of Auburn, Bangor and the Brunswick area; Fairfield Inn of Bangor; and the Portland Marriott.
Walsh’s five-story Residence Inn by Marriott located next door to the Cross Insurance Center became one of the anchors to the revitalization of the Bangor waterfront when it opened in 2015, Joe Baldacci said.
“We met with him to talk about interesting him in a hotel on the Bangor waterfronts. He loved Bangor, but he was all business,” Baldacci said. “You could tell that he was a great businessman because his mind was [totally] focused on how many steps it would all take.”
Walsh’s wake for family and friends will he held from 4 to 7:30 p.m. at Brookings-Smith on Tuesday. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory should go to the Florida Keys SPCA Inc. animal shelter, 5230 College Road, Key West, FL 33040 or The Mitchell Institute in Maine, 75 Washington Ave., Suite 2E, Portland, ME 04101.
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