Longtime Employee Roy David Contreras Dies

September 20, 2008

The University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management and the Hilton University of Houston Hotel and Conference Center have lost one of their brightest lights, a man friends and colleagues called “dependable,” “generous” and “one of a kind.”

Roy David Contreras, who had served UH for 33 years and was admired and beloved by all who knew him, died Saturday after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 53.

Friends, colleagues and relatives will mourn his death and celebrate his life at a memorial service from
3:00 – 4:00 on Thursday, Oct. 2 at the A.D. Bruce Religion Center (the chapel on campus). A visitation will be held for Contreras from 4-9 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 30 at the Compean Funeral Home, 2102 Broadway, Houston, 713-924-6900.

Contreras, a native Houstonian and UH alumnus, was the audiovisual manager at the Hilton University Hotel, a position he held since 1989. He was a fixture at the university, having worked in the College of Education, the M.D. Anderson Library and handled projects for top school administrators and the UH System Board of Regents.

“He was one of those guys who is like the glue of the university,” said Philip Booth, manager of video production and streaming media for the campus. “He knew everything about the University of Houston, knew every nook and cranny. But more than that, he was a good friend. And I mean a good friend, not just a close friend. If you just told him ‘thank you’ he would burn bridges to get something done for you. He was the ultimate professional.”

John T. Bowen, dean of the Hilton College, remembers returning to the college after 13 years away, and Contreras was still there, a reassuring and comforting presence. Bowen said Contreras took pride in his work and made it his top priority to take care of anyone and everyone.

“I have a lot of fond memories of Roy, and I’ll always treasure that,” Bowen said. “But it’s a huge loss. He’ll be missed by an awful lot of people at this college and throughout the university. Everybody he knew grew to like him.”

For those at the Hilton college and the Hilton University Hotel, Contreras will always be “Santa,” a role he played for many years. Faculty and staff members, with watery eyes but smiles on their faces, said they will cherish the times when Contreras showed up to the annual Christmas party dressed as the jolly old elf himself. And every year, he played Santa Claus for children at the Depelchin Children’s Center, which provides social and mental care to children throughout the Houston area.

“He had this reputation as being tough or having this gruff exterior, but he was so lovable and generous once you got to know him,” said Mary Douglas, director of Placement Services at the Hilton College, who first met Contreras when she worked for the UH College of Technology, where Contreras was a student. “He was so gentle, wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was just my buddy, and I’m going to miss him.”

Shirley Woods, director of housekeeping at the Hilton University Hotel, said she was “in shock” after hearing the news, despite trying to prepare herself as Contreras’ condition worsened late last week. Woods knew Contreras for more than 30 years.

“He took his job very seriously, but he could always make you laugh,” Woods said. “He was a genuinely good person. I’ve worked with him for a long time, and I wouldn’t want to work with anybody else. I wouldn’t have traded Roy for anybody.”

For those who wish to share their condolences, praise and memories of Contreras, a special weblog has been created on the Web site of the Houston Chronicle. To offer your thoughts or read what others have posted, visit http://www.legacy.com/HoustonChronicle/DeathNotices.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonId

For Yolanda Sauceda, executive assistant at the Hilton University Hotel, the words did not come easily.
“He was a true friend, my best friend,” Sauceda said. “He was always there when you needed him and he never asked anything in return. He was like a brother to me.”

Barrett Goldsmith