The late La’auli Alan Grey and wife Marina Grey
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – MONDAY 26 MARCH 2018: The passing of prominent hotelier La’auli Alan Grey in the weekend has prompted former and current employees to fondly remember the man they used to call “Papa”.
La’auli died early Saturday morning at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole hospital surrounded by his family.
Speaking to several former employees who served at the world famous Aggie Greys Hotel, they remember La’auli as the “man with a heart of gold” a characteristic they believe was passed on from his mother – Aggie, the founder of the legendary Aggie Greys hotel.
“Alan had the character and loving heart of his mother,” said Taofi Sapolu, who worked at Aggie Grey’s Hotel for ten years until the early 1990’s.
“He was known to all staff members as Papa and we never address him as the Boss or Mr. Grey but always Papa.” Taofi believed that was what made the working environment at Aggies Hotel very friendly and welcoming to anyone.
She remembers well the days the staff always looked forward to like White Sunday where staff members receive a bonus of a sack of rice and a 3lb of corned beef as a token of their service and celebrating the special day for children.
Taofi who used to work at the Aggie Greys Gift Shop and almost every day, people come in with handicrafts, sea food, vegetables and other materials for sale, and Alan bought them all.
“Many times we reminded him that the shop was fully stocked with handicrafts, and there was not enough space for more, but he would not budge, and so we ended up buying everything,” said Taofi.
La’auli was also passionate about rugby and for many years, he was the mainstay of Samoan rugby and contributed a lot to Manu Samoa making it at the world stage.
Another long serving employee Sugalu Sua shared Alan’s time with the national rugby team especially times the team stayed at the hotel.
“There were times reports of some of the players’ behaviour reached Alan including damages to the rooms, but he always held his patience and his passion and commitment to the development of rugby locally always wins. A former player and coach, the players and close friends know he was committed to high standards and has his own language with rugby players and close friends.
Sugalu remembers one time when a relative of his asked him why he was investing a lot in a sport that even Government was not contributing to.
“His reply was ‘but who is going to do it’ and that was the end of that conversation,” said Sugalu.
He also put in a lot to long boat – fautasi racing to engage the youth and he helped build and train teams such as Little Rina for his mother’s village of Toamua and Kionasina for the village of Apia.
“I remember how excited the staff were because Alan was the captain, but later when the fautasi’s were handed over to the villages, things changed and so was the fate of the races.”
Sugalu thinks many people took advantage of Alan’s humbleness and despite recommendations for him to drop and refrain from his involvement in these activities, Alan’s heart spoke louder.
“He continued to lend his assistance in developing Samoa not only through tourism, but sports.”
With his advancing age and health, he had less and less time with the hotel business when the Aggie Greys Hotel expanded through the Sheraton near the Faleolo airport. Then the major renovation of the main hotel in Apia that was opened in April 2016 as the Sheraton Samoa Aggie Greys Bungalows and has been sold to Chinese interests.