A former ambassador in the hotel industry

  • Charles Leroy Riley (Photograph supplied)

It was during the summer season of 1948 that Charles Leroy Riley, at the tender age of 17, suffered a near-death experience.

He was diving off the public wharf on Cambridge Road in Somerset, directly across the bay from Cambridge Beaches.

Both his parents, Julian and Grace Riley, worked at the hotel and rushed to the scene to attend to their son.

Leroy recalled that he was admonished by his mother for making what perhaps can be regarded as an unwise choice and exposing himself to danger.

In an effort to maintain a watchful eye over her teenage son she decided that he should join her and her husband at the storied cottage colony.

It proved a perfect match. Leroy spent nearly 60 years in the hotel industry before his formal retirement in or around 2008.

He worked at Cambridge Beaches for two years as a storeman before moving to the former Belmont Hotel in Warwick. He was trained in room service, later working as a busboy and, for two years, as a waiter in the main dining room.

In the mid 1950s he joined Elbow Beach Hotel as a cocktail waiter.

He next moved to the former Castle Harbour Hotel, working as a bar porter at the prestigious Tucker’s Town property. After a brief stint, Leroy was transferred to the cocktail bar as a waiter and bartender.

This was indeed a pivotal moment in his life as it afforded him a host of opportunities and catapulted his career. A scholarship from Bristol Cellar Ltd allowed him to travel to France and explore and learn the history and production of elite wines and champagne such as Dom Perignon and Laurent-Perrier.

Leroy was one of two Bermudians granted such an exhilarating opportunity. The other was his close friend, colleague and fellow Somerset resident, Weldon Dowling. Upon completion of the course, Leroy was formally certified as a sommelier wine steward, a specialist wine professional.

The qualification served as special significance to Leroy, who was able to utilise his expertise in areas outside his profession.

In a pure twist of fate, while working as a dining room captain at the Southampton Princess Hotel in the mid 1980s, he was called as an expert witness in a groundbreaking case before the Supreme Court.

Local wine merchants JE Lightbourn & Company Limited were sued by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, or CIVC, an organisation charged with managing the production, distribution and promotion of the wine and champagne industry worldwide. The group is also responsible for safeguarding the name Champagne as a designation of origin and a valuable trademark.

It launched litigation against JE Lightbourn & Company Limited because of Andre Champagne, a product marketed in the United States and sold here.

Leroy was approached by the late barrister Coles Diel to give expert evidence. Leroy was instructed to ascertain whether or not there was a dilution of the meaning of the name Champagne in Bermuda.

Mr Diel stated that, in his opinion, Leroy had participated in a very important step in the international wine trade.

• Read more about the life of Leroy Riley in our column next week