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Businessman was ahead of his time

| Saturday, Nov. 8, 2003

Herbert J. de Marrais was an old-fashioned businessman, never caring much for computers or casual Fridays. In the field of food and management services, however, he was a visionary.

"He always saw that there was a need for better service in the food industry," said his son, Gregory. "He was actually ahead of his time in a lot of respects."

Mr. de Marrais, of Collier, owner of the hotel and motel brokerage firm H.J. De Marrais & Associates, died Thursday, Nov. 6, 2003. He was 75.

Mr. de Marrais was born and raised in Oradell, N.J. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado to study agriculture.

After one year, Mr. de Marrais left college and became assistant manager to Gene Leone, owner of Mamma Leone's restaurant in New York City. The pair became so close that when Leone released a cookbook he took Mr. de Marrais with him on a number of promotional visits on television shows.

In 1958, Mr. de Marrais took his knowledge of the food service industry and started his first company, Specialized Food Services, which contracted food service for colleges, hotels and hospitals around the country. The company later became Specialized Management Services as Mr. de Marrais expanded the business to include maintenance and housekeeping services.

A former co-worker, Chuck Saller, remembers Mr. de Marrais not only for his business skills, but for the friendship the two developed while working together for 25 years.

"There's not a lot of relationships where employer and employee become great friends, but we were great friends," Saller said. "When I left to start my own business, Herb was always there, helping anytime I needed it."

In 1968, Mr. de Marrais sold his business -- which had 80 accounts in 122 locations -- and left the food service industry. In 1974, he founded H.J. De Marrais & Associates, which managed hotels for lending institutions and private investors. During his career, Mr. de Marrais' company completed property sales valued at more than $3 billion.

Mr. de Marrais helped found the Hotel Management Company Council for the American Hotel and Lodging Association and served on a number of local boards, including 13 years on the board of St. Francis University. He was an avid gardener and a longtime member of the Men's Garden Club of Pittsburgh.

In addition to his son, Gregory, Mr. de Marrais is survived by his wife, Mildred; son, Anthony, of Whiting, N.J; daughter, Patricia, of Bellevue; two brothers, Gordon, of Lonpoc, Calif., and David, of Winter Park, Fla.; a sister, Patricia Waddon, of East Grand Rapids, Mich.; and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the William Slater II Funeral Service, 1650 Greentree Road, Scott. A Funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Holy Souls Church, Carnegie. Interment will be in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Peters, Washington County.

Memorial contributions may be made to Little Sisters of the Poor Health Ministry, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, 206 Mary St., Carnegie, PA 15106-2489.

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