Why Not Be Extraordinary?

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Why Not Be Extraordinary?

By Rich Luna | Jul 1, 2019

“All it takes is faith and trust… Oh! And something I forgot: Dust. Just a little bit of pixie dust.”
- Peter Pan

There must have been a sprinkling of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust in the Miami air the day Jack and Kim Tweddle welcomed their first child, a day filled with love and certainly hope for what the future would hold in store for the baby girl they named Anne.

She came into the world on the 20th day of February in the year—well, as Mary Poppins would say, “One never discusses a woman’s age.” She would fulfill her parent’s dream, living a life of faith and trust, of commitment and joy, of honor and love and courage and many other attributes that define the best of what we seek in each other and ourselves.

In our world, Anne Hamilton—who was honored with the MPI Industry Leader Award at the MPI World Education Congress in June—has been a fierce advocate for the value of meetings and events, a trailblazer for women in leadership, a champion for professional development and a mentor to future generations.

She has risen in the ranks at one of the world’s most well-known brands, The Walt Disney Company, where she has worked for more than two decades, spending much of that time championing Disney’s diverse and growing properties to meeting planners. She has engaged with various industry and community associations, boards and causes, including a career-long commitment to MPI and a love for her alma mater, Florida State University.

Hamilton raised her son, Ian. She has seen the birth of her first grandchild. Her extended family numbers 41 and includes her mom, six siblings and a new grandson. She is unfailingly loyal to her friends, of which she has many, and laughingly accepts the teasing she gets for her lack of skills in the kitchen.

It has not been a life without pain, some short-lived, yet other pain the sum of which can often be unbearable and brings into focus for her what truly matters. Through it all, she has persevered, refusing to retreat from any challenge, including the one from the cancer that may be ravaging her body, but not her spirit.

“What I admire most is her courage, her strength and her resilience,” says Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “Anne is somebody who has always set high goals for herself and I can’t think of anything that Anne can’t do when she puts her mind to it.”

George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, remembers meeting Hamilton in the early 1990s, when she was head of sales for Hilton and he worked for Disney.

“Her attitude was extraordinary,” he says. “She was so positive and optimistic. We can make this happen, we can work better together, we can figure out how to do our business together even more positively and productively.

“I was so struck by what I saw as this amazing charisma that came out of her and then I noticed this scarf with Disney on it. She didn’t work for Disney, but her property was on Disney, and one of the opportunities for us at Disney was finding how our partner hotels could embrace the special unique position they had being on our property. I never saw anyone embrace it as she did and I thought, ‘This is someone who really belongs at Disney.’”

The most poignant accolades, though, may be from her son, Ian, who beams with pride when he reminisces about his mom and finding slightly dated—as in up to three years—food in the refrigerator.

“Cooking is definitely not her thing, that’s for sure,” he laughs. “There’s not a scenario where you didn’t have some sort of food going bad. She always made me her first priority. There was never a time in my life where I grew up saying, ‘Man, I wish she was like this, or I had a different parent.’ Any interaction you have with her, she truly cares. She’ll remember it. She’ll do anything for you and won’t think twice about it. She’s easily the most selfless person I’ve ever met and there’s no scenario she wouldn’t do anything in her power for you. She’s incredible.”

“Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go…”
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

When Hamilton was 10, her father was in the hotel business in Sunny Isles Beach in the North Miami Beach area. One day, someone in group reservations called in sick and Hamilton’s dad asked if she wanted to work.

“I said, ‘What if I don’t want to?’” she says. “He says, ‘Well, then you’ll stay and babysit your brothers and sisters.’ So I went to work with him and that was my first time officially going to work.”

Her uncle Leo was her dad’s partner and she went about stuffing envelopes with hotel brochures and rate cards.

“At the end of the day, [Leo] gave me a dollar and I said, ‘Wow, so every time I work for you Uncle Leo, you’ll give me a dollar?’’’ Hamilton says. “He said yes, and I said I’ll be here tomorrow and that’s what started it. I said this is a great industry, I love my job, and that was at 10.”

She credits her parents for teaching her the values that matter in this business, or any for that matter.

“[My father] always said hire people smarter than you and you will learn from them, and that has served me well all through my career and, you know, he’s with me in spirit,” she says. “He was just an incredible man.”

Her father wanted her to go to Cornell, which had a hotel school, and she had never seen snow. Instead, she chose Florida State, where she earned a bachelor’s degree from the Dedman School of Hospitality. She later earned a master’s from Stetson University.

Hamilton wanted to stay in Florida and was hired in 1980 by Hyatt Hotels in Orlando. She would later become director of sales and marketing for Hilton Hotels, where she worked for seven years before joining Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in July 1996. Over 18 years she helmed the resort sales and catering/convention services teams for the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disney Cruise Line, the Disneyland Resort in California and Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Hawaii. She also oversaw Disney’s national sales team. Hamilton moved to the role of vice president of global travel in 2015.

“There’s never a dull day at Disney,” she says. “There is no such thing as, ‘Oh, let me just take a breath.’ There is so much going on so all of those projects, and even more that are happening today, just continue to keep you stimulated.”

Continuing education and association involvement were high priorities for Hamilton.

“The greatest lesson I learned is that your journey of learning never ends,” she says. “The more you educate yourself, the more that you’re aware of what’s happening in your industry. The world is moving so fast and our industry is changing.

“I actually went back and got my MBA at 50. I was the oldest person in the class, but I needed a new way of thinking. I felt it was really important.”

Hamilton has also been an advocate for diversity and inclusion. She recalls seeing few women in the hospitality industry when she started.

“It shocks me to say that, but I had to work really hard and it didn’t come easy,” she says. “I just want other women to know they can do it. You can be a mom, you can work, you can be successful at your job and you can be successful balancing your home life. There are just a lot of women that don’t think they can take that step. I want to say, ‘Yes you can.’”

“You must take your place in the Circle of Life.”
- The Lion King

Hamilton has melanoma. It has taken a heavy toll on her body, but not her spirit. Not by any means.

She was at an industry trade show about five years ago when she was diagnosed. She went through chemotherapy, made progress, but the cancer persists.

“Failure is not an option for me,” Hamilton says. “I’m a fighter and I’m going to give this the strongest fight of my life.

“There is no cure for my cancer, but there are new drugs that can help [prevent] the cancer from growing and that’s the program I’m part of. I have the tenacity. I’m never going to look sick, that’s just who I am, and I’m going to continue to fight and beat it. “

Her support network is vast but starts with her family—her son Ian, her husband Bill Hold and her sister Christy, who moved to Orlando to help Hamilton.

“She may have a round of chemo or a round of immunotherapy and she doesn’t even think about that,” Ian says. “She’s able to get these treatments and the next day she’s flying back because she needs to be at a meeting and then she shows up and you would never know she had just gone through what would put some people down for a week. She’s never going to be the person that wants pity or sympathy. She’s going to go out and kick anything in her ways’ ass and it’s just remarkable how she’s able to do that.

“I cut my finger and I don’t want to go to work; she’s battling cancer and doing all of these great things for people.”

“When you wish upon a star; Makes no difference who you are; Anything your heart desires will come to you.”
- Pinocchio

“I hope my legacy would be that I changed people, I changed people’s lives, that I made a difference in their life and inspired them in some way because that’s the legacy that other leaders have passed forward to me,” Hamilton says. “I have a saying: Why be ordinary, when you can be extraordinary? So, I want to be extraordinary. That’s just my personality; it’s who I am. I want to be the most extraordinary mother, wife and sister. Professionally, I want my teams and leaders to be extraordinary so that they stand out. When they feel that that’s how I want them to be perceived, then they support it and it’s fun because there’s a lot of ordinary in this world, so why not be extraordinary? So I hope my legacy will be that that I made a difference in people’s lives, that I inspired them in some way and that’s how they’ll remember me.”

Industry Leader Award

The MPI Industry Leader Award was established in 2015 to recognize individuals who through their personal and organizational commitments have made a significant, lasting and positive impact on MPI and our community. Through their leadership, creativity, passion and generosity they have advanced our profession, our industry and MPI, ensuring the long-term stability of our association. Recipients of the award to date are:

Michael Dominguez, 2015
Christine Duffy, 2016
Ray Bloom, 2017
Roger Dow, 2018
Anne Hamilton, 2019



Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.