Former Marriott executive Fred Malek dies at 82

Fred Malek Richard Nixon
Photograph courtesy of the Nixon Foundation

Fred Malek, a top executive of Marriott Corp. when the hospitality company was still a foodservice powerhouse, died Sunday at age 82. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Malek, the son of a beer truck driver, pursued a varied career that took him from military service into business, politics, finance, pro sports and a number of philanthropic causes. His reputation held that he excelled at all of them.

“Fred Malek dedicated his life to serving others—and he served us well,” John DeBlasio, founder and executive director of the philanthropic investment firm Global Peace and Development Charitable Trust, said in a statement. “He was one of the most gracious men I’ve met and someone who did countless things for others to help them find success and become servant leaders like himself.”

The hospitality industry figured prominently in Malek’s winding professional path. The West Point graduate joined Marriott in 1975, when the company’s holdings included a number of restaurant chains, including Big Boy and Roy Rogers. A significant portion of its revenues were generated by a contract-feeding arm and what’s known today as HMS Host, a concessionaire for the travel and recreation businesses. Malek worked his way up to president of Marriott Hotels within a few years.

Earlier, Malek had worked in the administration of President Richard Nixon, serving in such roles as special assistant to the president, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He left Marriott to re-enter politics in 1988 as head of the Republican National Convention, where George H.W. Bush was nominated for the presidency.

After winning, Bush appointed Malek to the equivalent of an ambassadorship, working with key industrialized nations. He would subsequently head Bush’s unsuccessful bid for a second term in 1992. He also worked on Sen. John McCain’s run for the presidency in 2008. All told, he would serve four presidents.

Malek shifted into the finance business, working for The Carlyle Group, a predecessor of today’s private-equity firms. The firm made an unsuccessful run on the Chi-Chi’s Mexican casual-dining chain and succeeded in buying Caterair, the airline meals producer owned by Marriott.

Along the way, Malek teamed up with George W. Bush and other investors to buy the Texas Rangers MLB franchise. He also played a role in relocating the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C., where they became the Washington Nationals.

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