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Franklin A. James, Hilton Harbor East hotel manager, dies

Franklin James was the manager of the newly opened Tru by Hilton Baltimore.
Franklin James was the manager of the newly opened Tru by Hilton Baltimore.

Franklin Alonzia James, who was recently named a manager of a Harbor East Hilton hotel and was recalled for his leadership style, died of a heart attack Jan. 16 at his downtown home. He was 43.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Belair Edison, he was the son of Verna Johnson and Franklin A. James. From the age of 5 he was raised by his stepfather, Paul Johnson.

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“Franklin was kind, helpful and gracious,” said his mother. “When you encountered Franklin, you knew you were made to feel special, loved and valued.”

His mother said that her son showed signs of being a promising actor as a child. He attended the Winston and Herring Run schools and joined the TWIGS, an afternoon arts program associated with the Baltimore School for the Arts, from which he graduated in 1995.

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“He was definitely an actor. He was bright, friendly and inquisitive. It was a natural progression for him to go the Baltimore School for the Arts,” said O’Melia James, an aunt.

As a high school senior he performed in an experimental production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“He was a talented actor who later took his skills and turned them into his work in the hospitality industry. There’s a certain generosity of spirit in acting, and Franklin exercised that warmth as a hotel manager. He was a great person just to be around,” said Donald Hicken, his acting teacher at the School for the Arts.

Mr. Hicken recalled visiting Mr. James in New York, at a hotel where he worked.

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“He was a natural at the job,” said Mr. Hicken, a board member of the Hippodrome Foundation.

Lance Coadie Williams, a friend from his high school days who lives in New York, said, “He had a voice, but what he really had was a certain presence you need for musical theater.”

Mr. James attended Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, and transferred to Fordham University, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree. He appeared in “Hair” and “Othello.”

“I drove Franklin to New York after Shenandoah. He went to Fordham at Lincoln Center,” said his aunt, O’Melia James. “He liked Broadway and lights. That was his dream.”

He auditioned for theatrical roles in New York, where he lived for several years, working in off-Broadway productions and appearing in commercials. Like other aspiring actors, he also worked in the hospitality industry and was a maître d’hôtel at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the World Trade Center.

“Franklin was scheduled to be at work at 10 a.m. the morning of 9/11,” said his friend, Mr. Williams, who appeared in the 2019 production of “Kiss Me, Kate” in New York. “He was on his way downtown [in New York City] when the plane hit the building. New York changed after that, and he came back to Baltimore.”

Mr. James, who as a teen worked at the Baltimore County Club’s Five Farms golf course and clubhouse, then gained more experience working in Baltimore’s hotels.

He worked at the Doubletree Hilton, the Hotel Monaco, the Horseshoe Casino, Sagamore Pendry Hotel, Hyatt Place Baltimore on Central Avenue, and the 414 Light Street Residences, where he was the lifestyle manager, or concierge.

He became the general manager of the Tru by Hilton Baltimore, also on South Central Avenue in Harbor East. The 140-room hotel opened Nov. 13, 2020.

“He had a huge position, even if it were not during a pandemic. Not many people in our industry have the opportunity to open a brand new hotel as a new, first-time general manager. It was a large responsibility,” said Shannon Gallagher, director of sales at the hotel.

“Franklin was an incredible professional. He was a sparkle of light. He was known within our industry and within our city. He would do anything for anyone. He was such a kindhearted individual. He built an amazing team. It was those qualities that appealed to our owners.”

She said of him, “He always looked sharp, from his shoes to his hats. He had flair and had a curiosity about people and things.”

He attended the New Antioch Baptist Church and the Carter Memorial Church of God in Christ. He served on the Leadership Tea and the Men’s Ministry and was a founder of the Good Fellas.

In addition to his mother, father and stepfather, survivors include two brothers, Jamal James and Travis Johnson; four sisters, Rickia Wallace, Kelsie Johnson, Tierra James and Talisha Johnson; his grandfather, Thomas Reaves; his grandmother, Shirley Johnson; a friend, Damian Owens; and numerous nieces and nephews. All reside in Baltimore.

Services were held at the March East Funeral Home.

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