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HE LIKED TO FUSS OVER GUESTS AT STRING OF HOTELS

When St. Petersburg boomed with tourists and retirees in the postwar years, he was one of the people who put on a smile to greet the visitors.

Samuel F. Bond and his two brothers ran a string of old hotels in downtown St. Petersburg, including the Pennsylvania, the Colonial and his favorite, the Ponce de Leon.

"He used to say, 'These hotels of ours are not very big, but that front door opens up to the rest of the world,'" said his son, who is also named Sam Bond.

Mr. Bond died Tuesday of natural causes. He was 92.

The city was much smaller then, both geographically and socially. Bond Jr. remembers photos of his father having lunch with former Mayor Al Lang. His dad could get a $150,000 loan with a handshake.

"It was a different world," he said. "Everybody knew they were good for it."

The son of a Kentucky state senator who was also in the lumber business, Mr. Bond was a teenager when he settled on 10 acres with his family at the last stop of the trolley, at Ninth Street and 34th Avenue N.

Once, the three "Bond boys" convinced a trolley driver to help them pick pecans outside their house. While he was occupied, they stole the trolley and rode it all the way out to Bay Pines, picking up passengers along the way.

"The driver was probably having a conniption fit," said his daughter, Linda Melleney. "The three of them together, they were a rough bunch."

He went to Cornell University to study hotel management, and later earned the rank of major while fighting with the Air Force in World War II. During the war, he ran a hotel for officers in France. One of his duties was driving Gen. Dwight Eisenhower when he stayed there.

At one point, the Bond boys managed 10 hotels in St. Petersburg. Twin brother Bill was the numbers guy. Nin was a handyman who oversaw physical management of the hotels. Mr. Bond was known as the "nice one."

"My dad was the one who would go in and smooth everything out," Bond. Jr. said. "I don't think my dad had an enemy."

Mr. Bond personally greeted every new guest and tried to spend as much time as he could at his hotels.

The Bonds put on parties for special events, decorating the lobby and parading their kids before the guests.

"It was terribly embarrassing," Bond Jr. said. "But it was exactly how his business became successful. It was that personal touch."

Even as his son took over management duties, Mr. Bond could be found at the hotels, occasionally picking up eyeglasses a guest had misplaced.

Starting with the Bay Plaza project in the late '80s, the city began trying to revive downtown. The hotels had to go.

"Time had passed us by a little bit," Bond. Jr. said

The Bonds were businessmen. They were getting old, and so were the hotels. It was the right time to sell. They sold the Ponce to Bay Plaza in 1991. They finally sold the family's first hotel, the Pennsylvania, in 2000.

The hardest part for Mr. Bond was leaving his guests. He made sure each regular guest found a place to stay before he sold a hotel.

In his spare time, Mr. Bond enjoyed boating and cars. He drove his kids in his convertible to the old Pier each week after Sunday school. They bought popcorn and Cherry Cokes and fed the pelicans.

But Mr. Bond really cherished his hotels. He visited them so often that Virginia Combes, his wife of 35 years, sometimes complained he was a workaholic.

"He loved to get up and go check on his hotel," Bond Jr. said. "You always think the ideal thing is to look forward to going to work."

Lee Logan can be reached at (813) 226-3436 or llogan@sptimes.com. Researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Information from Times archives was used in this story.

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BIOGRAPHY

Samuel Foley Bond

Born: Sept. 30, 1916.

Died: Sept. 1, 2009.

Survivors: Wife, Mary; daughters, Linda Melleney and her husband, Herbert, Rebecca Lettelleir and her husband, Joe; son, Sam Bond Jr.; brother, William; four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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