Stan Higgins and Robert Mukondiwa
Zimbabwe’s hospitality industry lost one of its best-known personalities this week, with the death after a short illness of Jacqueline Fleming. She served 44 years as a member of staff at Harare’s five-star Meikles Hotel before retiring in 2016, and leaves a legacy of professional and unwavering commitment to quality in hospitality service.
In 2009, Jacqui reminisced to the media how she had been proud of a life of service to patrons, with her hands having served the needs of both kings and vagabonds. Never one to discriminate between her clientele, Jacqui had learnt to love the appreciative smile from all and sundry after rendering her acclaimed service.
She had a proud history etched on memorabilia in the corridors of the Meikles administration area, where she had fond and sharp memories of having served some of the most important celebrities of our time, including sharing time with the ultimate eccentric and late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson as well as a whole host of stars, so bright, they could blind the eye!
“I believe in respecting the person and their demands. Many are celebrities, yes, but they are also private citizens who want privacy and attention that gives them time to unwind and be normal everyday people as they relax in the comfort of your hospitality. That is what informs my handling of the stars,” said Jacqui in a tribute piece to the passing on of Michael Jackson then.
She has served her last and has rested from doing what she loved best and for which she will be fondly remembered by all who knew her and interacted with her. Born in Harare, she was educated at Bishopslea and Girls High School. She travelled overseas while young and on her return to Harare joined Meikles in January 1972 as a cashier in the then West Wing dining room.
She rose through the ranks and gained enormous experience, serving as hall porter, head receptionist, front office manager, rooms division manager and latterly administration and quality manager.
In her last few years at the hotel, she oversaw the hotel’s co-ordination of the initiative to look after Africa Unity Square, a project undertaken with most other corporates operating in the area immediately around the square.
Her career in Meikles saw good times and bad, including the slumps of the late 1970s and the 2000s, as well as the boom times of the 1990s. Highlights include meeting all the VIPs who stayed in the hotel for the Independence celebrations in 1980.
On quality, she often said feels she had learned a great deal from noted Meikles hoteliers like Roy Meiring, George Lehman and Kai Hansen, and was determined to help reinforce the Meikles tradition of first-rate service standards at all times.
In later life she was for a time involved with Celebration Centre and an orphanage in Concession, Montgomery Heights, and she spent time writing reminiscences of her time in Meikles with a self-published memoir.
In 2015 the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism honoured her with a Tourism Achievers’ Awards — Lifetime Achievement accolade in honour of her service, specifically drawing attention to the mentoring and support given to young entrants to the hospitality industry.
Said Carol White, managing director of Meikles Hospitality: “We mourn the passing on of one of the legends of the Zimbabwean hospitality industry and pay tribute to her long service, her commitment to professionalism and quality and her friendly and welcoming manner that was beneficial to staff and guests alike.”
Ms Fleming is survived by two sisters, both living outside Zimbabwe.