Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009 | 2 a.m.
I was proud to call Frank Fertitta Jr. a mentor, a friend, a leader and one of the kindest and smartest men I have ever known. We knew this day was coming for a while, and now that he has passed away it feels like it came too soon.
People who knew him knew that he battled heart problems for most of his adult life. While these times have been difficult, the outpouring of support has been tremendous, and it is a sign of the respect and love that people have for him.
This outpouring of love, the fond memories we all have, and the gratitude we should have for a man who changed our lives are a sign of his greatness — God gave us the blessing of time (more than 70 years) and we should cherish that time, and this man, forever.
There is no question he touched many lives in Las Vegas and throughout the world — everyone who encountered him talked about how much class he had and how cool he was. “Big Daddy was the best” was often uttered by almost everyone he met.
His ideas and hard work are reflected not only in his family, but also throughout Las Vegas, and will be for years to come.
But it’s how he treated people that will be remembered most. He respected people from all walks of life — from porters and bellmen to college students and industry titans. And he was one of the classiest men I knew — always courteous and always immaculately dressed with pocket squares and perfectly tailored suits — and expressing generosity without a second of doubt.
One example of his generosity was allowing my family to use his plane when my mom was suffering her most serious bout of cancer. Such acts of kindness were part of his very nature.
Every time he saw my wife he told her she was the prettiest girl in the room — as he winked and smiled at his own wife, Vikki. During the reception at my wedding in Italy, I vividly remember him yelling out, “This marriage is going to last forever,” in that confident and endearing Texas drawl. He made you feel comfortable! He made you feel special! He was the best!
He got his humble start as a bellman and “made his way” through hard work and determination and the pursuit of a better life. The Fertitta name is synonymous with Las Vegas. People who know this city know the Fertitta family.
Mr. Fertitta was an industry titan, but you’d never know it because of his quiet nature and soft demeanor. He engendered great respect from everyone in and around the gaming industry — from his employees to his competitors — and that’s no easy feat in the dog-eat-dog world known as Sin City or the Entertainment Capital of the World.
He was a generous and compassionate man and he fought for and supported what he believed in — from education in general, and Catholic schools in particular, to supporting underprivileged kids — from funding cancer research and Alzheimer’s and brain research to quite simply making Las Vegas a better place to live, study and work. He adored kids and whatever he did, he did so peerlessly and effortlessly (or so it seemed). He was one of a kind!
His extraordinary life has come to an end — but his memory and his impact will live on forever. Mr. Fertitta did more good than anyone will ever know.
We were fortunate enough to have him in our lives and celebrate all the good he did, and the irony is that a man with a heart the size of Galveston, Texas, passed away because of heart complications. He believed in family more than anything else, and taught us more about family than anyone — from Sunday family dinners at his homes to summertime functions at the beach (which included lots of dance parties with his grandkids).
His idea of the best party ever was a grandchild’s birthday party rather than a big Super Bowl function. He favored Fourth of July picnics with family and friends more than New Year’s Eve extravaganzas in Vegas. He loved his martinis! He loved his Italian heritage! He cherished family dinners and a good glass of wine!
He enjoyed the characters of Vegas and helping to build a city that now shines as one of the world’s greatest. But, most important, he was all about family — and he taught us all many things about the definition of family, hard work, class, giving back, taking risks and education.
He will live on forever in our hearts, and we should all model ourselves, even just a little, after Mr. Frank Fertitta Jr.
Tom Breitling, an executive at Wynn Resorts, is a family friend of the Fertittas.