James Simkins, a Woodinville resident who opened Willows Lodge hotel and helped shape the wine industry in western Washington, died Jan. 16, 2015 after battling cancer for a year and a half.
As the general manager of Willows Lodge, Simkins helped build the hotel in 2000 and convinced in-house restaurant The Herbfarm to locate there. Simkins was general manager until 2004, but was heavily involved in the hotel until his retirement in 2014.
Jim Treadway, the managing director at Bardessono Hotel and Spa in California, who worked with Simkins for decades, described him as “one of my closest friends, one of the greatest hoteliers to live…He made a lot of people’s lives and hotels better.”
Simkins and Treadway met in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1972. Treadway was helping build a hotel and was responsible for coordinating the furniture and fixtures. He hired Simkins, then a university student, and four of his friends as temporary labor to install 80 chandeliers.
“I was amazed at this guy,” Treadway recalled. “I ended up needing an assistant full time.” For the next two and a half years, Simkins worked as Treadway’s assistant in a variety of hotel positions. Simkins went on to work at hotels throughout the world.
Their paths crossed again when Simkins joined Treadway’s management company, MGM Luxury Lodging in Kirkland, which operated Willows Lodge, as a partner in 2000. During his time at Willows Lodge, Simkins quietly helped the western Washington wine industry grow.
Treadway said Simkins’ legacy is evident in the fact that this month, Willows Lodge was named the best hotel in Washington state by Business Insider magazine.
Simkins is survived by his wife Val, his daughter Kathryn, his son Jonathan and his grandson Thomas.