Serving up second chances with a smile in Raleigh’s hotel scene

By Katie Clark

He’s a vibrant and playful gentleman who is a self-described Gemini. You can tell he enjoys laughter by the smile that rests on his face after yet another joke. His blue eyes match the color of the tribal cross tattoo that circles his wrist. He is gentle, grateful and welcoming to everyone he knows, works with and cares for.

But like most people, he first went through times of unhappiness and struggle. His philosophy is now to believe in others because someone first believed in him.

In 1977, 12-year-old Daniel James McLaughlin worked as a delivery boy in New York City’s garment district. His father worked in a deli called Picnic Fair that sat across the street from the New York Public Library.

Though Dan was the baby of the family, he was the only child who helped his dad deliver food. His father, wanting him to be a hard worker, brought Dan along his delivery route for a year.

“I think that was always instilled in me as a young child, that nobody could ever take that away from you if you work very hard,” McLaughlin says. “People will respect you and you will respect yourself.”

After high school, McLaughlin wanted to attend college but could not afford it. Instead, he landed a job at a Parsippany, New Jersey, hotel run by the Interstate Management Company. He worked in the hotel’s pantry for a year before being promoted.

“My college, my internship was there,” McLaughlin said about his time in the pantry. “That turned out to be my school where I was able to graduate from.”

Challenges that lead to success

As McLaughlin climbed the career ladder, he slid into depression. At 21 years old, his father committed suicide. Shortly after, McLaughlin’s fiancee suffered a miscarriage. For the following year he coped with the losses through an alcohol and cigarette addiction.

“As I drank, it brought me closer to my father because with the hurt, it amplified that,” McLaughlin said. “The more I drank, the better I felt and the more that I was close to him because I had so much emotion. To keep him close to me, I drank very heavily.”

He met his wife, Kristin McLaughlin, in 1994. Dan would make Kris special drinks of Sprite, crushed ice and cranberry juice at the hotel where they both worked. Their first date was on the Fourth of July on Brooklyn Bridge. He met Kris while recovering from his addiction.

“You told me that right up front,” Kris told Dan from across the dining room table. “You told me, ‘I don’t drink.’ I was like, ‘Oh, well I do!’ It was fine; it was never an issue.”

“Yeah, I was a much better person then,” Dan said back with a smile.

McLaughlin’s struggle from ’86 to ’87 affected his work and personal life, and he knew he needed help to move forward. He soon went through a recovery period and began to focus on the career he had been building for years.

A life made new

Today, McLaughlin works as the food and beverage manager at the Marriott City Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a manager, he ensures that the hotel’s food and beverage division promotes guest satisfaction, revenue, profitability and an associate-driven business.

But he does more than just direct. McLaughlin, in his own words, “circulates and percolates,” doing everything from checking payroll, to helping employees cook, to serving guests through room service.

“When you can be the hand in there to be part of the success, instead of just dictating it, it’s very rewarding,” McLaughlin says. “People respect you when you’re working side by side with them.” He works along with his associates while also directing them.

McLaughlin speaks very highly of his employees and coworkers and says they are what makes the hotel business so wonderful.

“Every individual has an amazing contribution that they can give to a guest. Nothing beats the individual personality that people have to offer.”

Anthony Parise, executive chef at the Marriott Raleigh, said that McLaughlin finds the best in every situation presented to him.

“Dan is eccentric; he is a very calm and happy human being,” Parise says. “When he sees someone who has the ability to do a job, he lets that person own it and take pride in it.”

Guests at the Marriott Raleigh can tell that the food and beverage department is well directed just by attending hotel events. Joe Currie, board chairman of the North Carolina Business Travel Association, appreciates McLaughlin’s work at their association’s banquets.

“The event was extremely well received by all of NCBTA’s members based upon the wonderful selection of food, from breakfast to a takeaway snack at the end of the day,” Currie said. “There is no doubt that the entire staff took pride and care in the service that they provided.”

Giving as he received

After 30 years, McLaughlin still works for the Interstate Management Company at the Marriott Raleigh. He moved to North Carolina 13 years ago to stay with it, since Interstate had given him the ability to take care of himself and his family.

“I’ve always been very loyal and very thankful and appreciative of what they’ve given me,” McLaughlin says. “Thanks to my job, I can feed my puppy,” he said while smiling at Butters, his pampered mutt.

“Everyday, fresh,” McLaughlin jokes. “Are you kidding me? He has an acquired taste for finer food.”

McLaughlin said that Interstate helped him build discipline, organization and success into his life. The company also inspired him to believe in others because it believed in him.

“I’ll never forget it. Somebody believed in me at the pantry,” McLaughlin says. “Somebody gave me an opportunity, so I am going to give everyone else an opportunity.”

His hard work and life of service to his company is noticed by everyone in his life, but McLaughlin’s wife sees his work and services firsthand.

“I know the passion he puts into his work and the loyalty he feels he owes, as well as the reciprocal loyalty they give him for all that he has done,” Kris says. “Nobody works harder than Dan.”

He continues to give others the benefit of the doubt just as he received in the hotel pantry 30 years ago. Perhaps now, as McLaughlin cooks, serves and directs his employees, he can return to being 12 years old again. Serving others with his father and giving chances because he was given one so long ago.

Doing good, for the good of it.

Edited by Stephen Kenney

At Connor’s Lane, new life springs up from tragedy

By Savannah Cole

Every time the Beeson family sits around their fire pit, Connor’s Lane, they reminisce over the 19 years they shared with their son. They smile, they laugh, and sometimes, they cry.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day; Ryan Beeson had just returned to East Carolina University after a nice weekend at home. His day started just as any other. He headed to Cook Out for lunch, unaware that his family had been trying to call him all day. That afternoon, Ryan got a knock on his door. It was his cousin, Sid.

Sid sat Ryan down and told him there had been a death in the family. Ryan’s first thought was his dad. He never expected it to be his younger brother, only sibling and best friend. Ryan said, “I just remember crying and screaming.”

Connor was working on his truck, White Thunder. He was pumping air into its tires when one exploded, instantly killing him. Connor was just 19 years old. Jan. 19, 2015, would be a day that changed the Beesons’ lives forever.

‘I love you to the moon and back’

Ryan was about two years older than Connor. Some of Ryan’s favorite memories include playing with his younger brother every day after school. They played Us Big, a game where they would pretend to be grown-ups from different time periods. Ryan also remembers the two playing with their cousins in their grandparents’ sandbox until high school.

Connor and Ryan’s rooms were beside each other, connected by a bathroom. Every night they would tell each other good night and that they loved each other.

Connor enjoyed spending time with his family and friends, hunting, working on White Thunder and playing with Dixie and Daisy, his bluetick coonhounds. Ryan describes his younger brother as “dedicated, loyal and loving.”

Connor was a special person who was taken too soon. One of his friends, Kyle Hollingsworth, said, “Connor was a kindhearted, faithful friend. He always wore a beautiful smile on his face but was very unpretentious.”

Ryan remembers that the last time he saw Connor, they spent the whole afternoon walking around where Connor hoped to build his house. Ryan said, “I’m so thankful the last time we had together was forward-looking.”

The night before his death, Connor woke his mom up in the middle of the night to tell her he loved her and that he knew how much she loved him. The two had always told each other, “I love you to the moon and back.” That was the last time they spoke.

Connor had also written a note to his girlfriend saying, “When I die, people are going to know how much I loved you.” Ryan said, “There’s a lot of things that can’t be explained but by God; I felt like God was trying to prepare us to say goodbye.”

Ryan misses his brother every day, but has peace in knowing that Connor left this earth feeling loved while letting his family know of his love for them.

The days, weeks and months following Connor’s death were agonizing for the Beesons. They lived on autopilot. Ryan said, “I look back at that time and I don’t know how I would sleep at night or how I ate.”

Turning tragedy to blessings

As terrible as the following days were, the Beesons had a wonderful support system. People were constantly at their house. Neighbors brought food, did their laundry, prayed with them and read Scripture with them.

The week after Connor died, Ryan’s family and friends told him that he needed to go back to school. People said that if he took too much time off, he would never return. Despite the heartache Ryan was going through, he put on a brave face and went to school.

About five or six weeks after returning to school, the pain took over and Ryan had to leave of his classes. It was unbearable. “You feel like the world has ended, but the world is still going on around you,” Ryan remembers. “How are these people just acting like everything’s normal? My brother is dead.” That day, he called his parents and decided to withdraw until he was ready to go back.

The family searched for ways to cope with the pain of losing their loved one; they knew they could not spend every day in mourning. They had to do something, so they decided to make a spot where they could go to remember Connor. The family built Connor’s Lane. They got chainsaws, cleared out all the trees and made an area for a fire pit.

The Beesons use Connor’s Lane to gather as a family and remember all the wonderful times they spent with him. Ryan said, “It’s a weird thing; sometimes it feels so fresh like it was just yesterday, and sometimes it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen him.”

Ryan and Connor’s mother, Christine, prayed for a sign that her son was with the Lord. Soon after, a yellow butterfly appeared and kept circling her. The Beesons often see yellow butterflies and believe it is God’s way of sending a “hello” from Connor. Whether at the lake or Connor’s grave, when they see a yellow butterfly, they know that Connor is OK.

The family decided to create a scholarship in Connor’s memory. Connor loved cows and often played with toy cows when he was younger, so they came up with the MOO Scholarship. The MOO (Make Others Outstanding) Scholarship goes to one graduating senior at Randleman High School each year.

Connor’s family and girlfriend adopted a highway in his memory. They are joined in the project by community members four times each year as a way to remember Connor. The Randleman Bojangles’ donates biscuits to feed those who come out to help.

A way forward

Nov. 20, 2019, would have been Connor’s 24th birthday. The community gathered to clean up the highway, but also to honor his life. There were food, friends and a cake.

Ryan wears a necklace that has Connor’s fingerprint on it. It makes him feel like a piece of Connor is with him every day. The Beesons still fight through tough times. January 19 of this year was exceptionally difficult, as it was the fifth anniversary of his death. Ryan cried for about two hours until a happy memory came up to make him smile.

Ryan said, “It’s OK to hurt; you’re supposed to hurt; you would feel guilty if you didn’t.” As the Beeson family gathers around the Connor’s Lane fire pit, they remember his story. They share stories, share laughs and share tears.

Edited by Stephen Kenney