Family joke gets 91-year-old grandpa a hotel invite to Waldorf Astoria in Italy
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By Hannah Sampson
When temperatures plunged during a deadly winter storm in Texas last month, Ezell Holley was one of the millions to lose power.
The 91-year-old from North Dallas joined his son and daughter-in-law at their nearby Irving home, also powerless, and they huddled near a fireplace for warmth.
His granddaughter Alex Holley, co-host of the morning news show "Good Day Philadelphia," chronicled the ordeal on social media from afar, sharing pictures of him bundled up inside and eating an ice cream bar in front of the fire.
Then she shared an update with her more than 300,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram that she was able to find them a hotel in Texas.
As Alex detailed in a series of posts and in a news segment, the family joked that she had found them the best hotel money could buy: a Waldorf Astoria.
It was a term Ezell had used frequently to represent a high standard, his son Glenn Holley said in an interview, though he had never stayed in one.
"Well, Grandpa, if you close your eyes really tight, maybe it'll seem like the Waldorf," Alex told him in a video call. "Because at least you have heat, and at this point that might feel like the Waldorf."
The nickname stuck - and so did a sign the family made for their hotel room door that said "Waldorf Astoria" and "Welcome." They referred to the hotel that way - though it was a decidedly non-luxury property - until they checked out several days later.
"They had heat, and that was all they were selling," Glenn said during a follow-up segment.
What Ezell didn't know was that an actual Waldorf Astoria hotel in Italy had noticed his granddaughter's coverage and messaged her on Instagram with an offer. The Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel wrote that when travel was safe again, he had an invitation to stay.
"We need more of his attitude in the world to get through these tough times and would love to see him smile some more," the message said.
In a statement, general manager Alessandro Cabella said the invitation came from the hotel's marketing team.
"When we saw Ms Holley's segment about her grandfather, we were taken by his humour and positive spirit during the extremely challenging times in Texas," Cabella said. "We would be honoured to welcome him back to Rome and look forward to his good cheer lighting up our hotel."
Alex broke the news as part of a news feature following up with her grandfather on February 24.
"I never dreamed that I might spend a night in a place like that," Ezell told her. As an Army soldier stationed in Germany in 1957, he had visited Rome and thrown coins in the Trevi Fountain. As the legend goes, throwing a coin in the fountain means you will come back.
"I was wondering if I'd ever return," he said.
Glenn said his father had talked about going back to Rome for decades; they were planning a trip to surprise him when the pandemic hit.
"Of course, it went to the bottom of the pile," he said. "The Waldorf has restored his vigour."
The luxury hotel brand, part of Hilton's portfolio, offered Holley another three nights at any other Waldorf property around the world and said it would pay for the round-trip flight to Rome for him and a guest.
He hasn't yet said who will be his plus one; his granddaughter joked that family members are campaigning.
"I'd like to go as soon as possible, probably as soon as the pandemic is over," Ezell said in an interview. "I would like it to be the first thing on the agenda."
In the meantime, the hotel sent a package to whet his appetite: a bathrobe, slippers and a luggage tag. His granddaughter posted a video showing him eating grapes, drinking from a wine glass and practising Italian phrases - with varying degrees of success.
She added a winking emoji and wrote: "Good thing we have plenty of time to work on his Italian . . ."