40 years of James Cook care

HANNAH MCKEE
Last updated 10:41 10/04/2014
denise thornton
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

PRESSING BUSINESS: Denise Thornton, executive housekeeper at the James Cook Hotel, still helps out with the ironing after 40 years of service.

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False legs, false teeth, birdcages and a box for carrying eyeballs – they have all been part of a day's work for James Cook Hotel executive housekeeper Denise Thornton, who is marking 40 years at the central Wellington landmark.

She began at the hotel in 1974 as a cashier, working front of house for 10 years before moving on to housekeeping.

"It's hard to think back that far – it was quite a different time, before credit cards, and people travelled with cash and travellers cheques. There were no computers, it was very hands-on."

The Upper Hutt resident says technology is not the only thing to have changed over the years.

"I think customers nowadays are perhaps a little more vocal and demanding about their wants and needs. That's good though, it keeps us on our toes."

And while property sometimes goes mysteriously missing from hotel rooms, what is left behind can be even more curious, she says.

"We have a lot of lost property that gets left behind. We've had birdcages, prosthetic legs, false teeth and a polystyrene box that had had eyeballs in it transported from one hospital to another hospital."

Thankfully, she says, the eyeballs were no longer in the box when she came across it.

Her role now is mainly administrative, but she still lends a hand in the linen room now and then. "I am a sustainability officer, an interior designer, a housekeeper and a counsellor. I love how no two days are the same.

"The job is very routine in itself, but every day is different, you never know what challenges or requests you are going to get. The people make it interesting and you're always learning and growing."

She will never forgot one particular request from her days as a young receptionist. "I had an American man phone wanting a rubber, and I mistakenly thought he wanted an eraser, so I went to his room and gave him one."

One side-effect of doing her job for so long is that she admits to being a picky guest when staying at other hotels. "I do try not to because everyone to their own, but I cannot stand lazy cleaning, including behind things. I have a hard time not looking behind things."

And what's the secret to getting those hotel sheets looking so neat and tidy? "As long as the bottom sheets are good, then the top will look good.

"It's just practice, strong arms and hands, and lifting the mattress. When you've done it a hundred times in one day, it becomes easy."

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- The Dominion Post

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