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Legacy Award: Dick Hamilton a driving force in NH tourism

By John Koziol
Union Leader Correspondent

May 23. 2018 11:53PM
With Mount Lafayette in the background, Dick Hamilton and his wife, Sandy, pose on the deck of their Littleton home last week. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)



LITTLETON — Tourism, says Dick Hamilton, is all about the smiles — beginning with the welcoming smile of the host state. And if things go well, that first smile will lead to many more future visits from guests.

A spry 82, Hamilton discovered the formula for tourism success in 1949 as a teenage bellhop at the Eastern Slope Inn in North Conway, which he parlayed into a career filled with accomplishments in promoting tourism both in his native White Mountains and the entire state.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” Hamilton said during an interview at his home. “I can’t say how happy I was and am to be involved in the tourism industry, and I’m glad that so many people agreed with me and came along.”

Born and raised in North Conway, Hamilton and his twin brother, Dale, were the middle of four siblings.

Hamilton is a 2018 Granite State Legacy Award recipient. He will be honored later this month with other recipients during a ceremony at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.

After graduating from Kennett High School in 1954, Hamilton served in the U.S. Air Force before taking a job at a ski area in Ironwood, Mich. Three years in, however, he was back in New Hampshire: “I liked New England too much,” he said.

Once back in the Granite State, Hamilton saw an ad for Ski 93, a newly formed organization to promote the ski resorts near Interstate 93 in the western part of the White Mountains.

After four years at Ski 93, Hamilton said, he was “loaned out” to the Mount Washington Cog Railway in 1969 to help the Cog celebrate its centennial. Later that same summer he was approached about becoming the first director of “this relatively new organization whose intent was to bring tourism and visitors to the White Mountains.”

Hamilton led that organization, White Mountain Attractions, from 1970 through 2005, and each night as he drove home through Franconia Notch, he would wave to the Old Man of the Mountain and say, “Good night, boss.”

After the Old Man collapsed on May 4, 2003, Hamilton was appointed and continues to serve on the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund.

According to his longtime friend and tourism industry colleague Steve Barba, Hamilton did three transformative things for the industry.

The first was to make people realize tourism is a statewide issue.

Then, he organized a tourism industry meeting in 1973 to respond to Gov. Meldrim Thomson’s plan to reduce gasoline consumption by prohibiting Sunday gas sales.

“That “extraordinary day,” Barba said, the New Hampshire Travel Council was formed, and Hamilton became its president. He eventually served for a decade. Today, tourism is New Hampshire’s second-largest industry.

Barba said the next big thing Hamilton did for the tourism industry was to convince people — as Hamilton is frequently heard to say — that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

White Mountain Attractions eventually found common ground with the Lakes Region Association, said Barba, and Hamilton was also able to convince the seven groups promoting alpine and cross-country ski resorts to unite under one banner — Ski NH. With Hamilton as its first director, Ski NH became the “third-largest ski association in the country,” said Barba.

Barba, who has known Hamilton for 47 years, called him “an extraordinarily wise and progressive thinker.”

Mark Okrant, creator of the first academic tourism program in New Hampshire at Plymouth State University, described Hamilton as the “dean of tourism marketers.”

Reflecting on nearly 70 years in tourism, Hamilton said he could not have accomplished anything without partners such as Barba and Okrant, or without his wife of 57 years, Sandy.

He has very few regrets, foremost among them that he planned poorly for his retirement, figuring that after stepping down from White Mountain Attractions at 69, he only had another 10 years to live “at most” and planned accordingly.

“But here I am, dammit,” 13 years later, he said.

On May 31 at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, Hamilton will be among those presented with 2018 Granite State Legacy Awards.

The awards celebrate the accomplishments of the state’s most distinguished citizens who have given the most to New Hampshire through business, philanthropy, politics and more over an extended period.

Presented by the New Hampshire Union Leader and sponsored by Eastern Bank, the annual awards program was launched in 2012.

Tickets to the 2018 Granite State Legacy Award presentation are $45 and include hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.

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To register, visit unionleader.com/legacy, call 206-7822 or email psirianni@unionleader.com.


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