September 8 2010 | Latest NewsFrench Quarter hotel doorman has a window on the world
September 07, 2010
Danny Monteverde, The Times-Picayune
Leroy Hawkins stood outside the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel one recent steaming afternoon and mopped his brow with a towel draped around his neck.
doorman-leroy-hawkins.JPGView full sizeMichael DeMocker, The Times-PicayuneDoorman Leroy Hawkins has been a fixture at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter for nearly 40 years.
Then he spotted a familiar face coming toward him. Hawkins flashed a smile and extended his arm to shake the man's hand.
"All right. Where y'at, baby?" Hawkins said to the passerby. The two exchanged a few pleasantries -- How's the family? Oh, and how about those Saints? Think they'll repeat? -- and the man was back on his way.
Meanwhile, a couple stepped out to the sidewalk, suitcases in their hands and carry-on bags dangling from their shoulders. Hawkins turned and hollered down the street.
An engine sputtered to life, the cab rolled up to the hotel door, and Hawkins helped the couple load their luggage into the trunk.
"You all take care, folks. Come and see us again soon," Hawkins said, and the cab pulled away.
Scenes like that are a common occurrence for Hawkins. For nearly 40 years he has been a doorman at the Royal Orleans, the face of the hotel for generations of visitors and locals alike, a certifiable New Orleans character.
It's a role he relishes.
As often as there's down time for Hawkins, there are bursts of activity. At any given moment, people come and go at the same time, often needing to get a move on to catch a flight. Cabs can pull up and pull away, whole tour buses can start unloading a crowd on the sidewalk and traffic can back up down narrow St. Louis Street in the French Quarter.
Hawkins is the conductor of the urban symphony, effortlessly directing cars, shuffling people about, restoring order to the block, winning over guests with his charm.
Kent Wasmuth, the hotel's sales and marketing director, said he is amazed at Hawkins' near photographic memory when it comes to guests and their names. Meet Leroy the doorman, as he's commonly known, one time, and he'll never forget you.
"Some people were born for their careers, and I think he was born for this," Wasmuth said. "He is a true Southern gentleman."
The oldest of 10 children, Hawkins was born in Opelousas on Sept. 1, 1950. By the time he was 7, his family was back in the big city.
He has spent much of his life in the French Quarter. The family house was in the 900 block of St. Peter Street and he found his first job at 8 years old, delivering orders, stocking shelves and butchering meat at the old Dauphine Grocery.
The Quarter, he recalled, was a different place those days. "It was quiet," he said.
He went to grammar school at the long-since-demolished St. Katherine's on Tulane Avenue until he transferred to St. Louis Cathedral Academy, where he was one of the first students to integrate the campus.
He said that at the time he was a little "timid," but that quickly changed.
Hawkins played softball and developed his skills on the hardwood. "When I started playing sports, everything changed," Hawkins said. "They started to accept me."
When he went to high school at Francis T. Nicholls, now Douglass, he played forward for the basketball team.
But then he had to grow up quickly.
At 18, Hawkins' father died and the young man was forced to go to work to support the family. He also helped his mom raise his siblings.
"I was the big brother, the big daddy, policeman -- they hated me," he said with a grin. "But we're all good now."
The family he helped nuture as a young man is still an important part of his life. So is his own family. Married in August 1979, he has three daughters -- two of whom are twins -- with his wife, Joycelyn. The couple have two grandchildren.
Eastern New Orleans is home these days.
Hawkins has a second family. It's made up of those he works with. The hotel, he says, is a "second home."
"I love this hotel. I love the people I work with," he said. "I never thought I'd have this much fun" with a job.
His time at the hotel began in September of 1971 when he got a job as a busboy at the Rib Room. From there he became a waiter, before moving to the door.
It proved a natural fit.
"I'm an outside person," he said. "I love people."
Those qualities may explain Hawkins' longevity in a position that can be stressful.
Hawkins said the key to performing his job well is to remain humble and to begin each day with a prayer.
"I ask the Lord for a good mind. You've got to have the right attitude," he said. "You have to humble yourself and pray up. It goes a long way."
As much as Hawkins loves his job, he knows life can be short, and there are things he'd like to do. So retirement, he said with a matter-of-fact look, has been on his mind. He has a few years left in him, but he said he's looking forward to slower days.
"There are things I want to do: travel, visit friends. I have a lot of friends who live away," he said. "There comes a time when you just got to enjoy life."