James Drury, 78, dies

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

James L. Drury, a prominent and outspoken business leader in Cape Girardeau for decades, died Monday at the age of 78 at Chateau Girardeau Health Center.

Drury, who along with his brothers from Kelso, Mo., founded the business that grew into the Drury hotel and development empire, was the principal owner of MidAmerica Hotels Corp., which operates hotels in Cape Girardeau,

St. Louis and Paducah, Ky., as well as Burger King restaurants in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Kentucky.

The businesses grew from a tile and plastering company founded by James Drury, his brothers and father Lambert Drury in the years after World War II. The tiling company was incorporated in 1959, and the family began its venture in the hotel business in 1960 with construction of a Holiday Inn in Cape Girardeau.

The first Drury Inn was built in Sikeston, Mo., soon afterward and was the first hotel to bear the family name.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Daniel Drury, now president of MidAmerica Hotels, said his father leaves a legacy of hard work, frugality and concern for his family, employees and his community.

"He loved his family, and he loved his extended family and that was the people that worked with him," Drury said. "I want to emphasize that people worked with him, not for him."

Hard work and a tenacious business attitude were themes from other interviews about Drury. "It was sad news for me and Cape Girardeau," Mayor Jay Knudtson said of Drury's passing. "I cherish the relationship I have with Jim."

Knudtson said he came to know Drury only in recent years, after he became mayor and saw the need to resolve an ongoing dispute between Drury and the city over the use of city tax money to support the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus. Lengthy negotiations in 2002 and 2003 resulted in a settlement that was good for the city and satisfactory to Drury, Knudtson said.

During the meetings, Knudtson said he became convinced that Drury was pushing a principle. "And when you step back and look at what was ultimately ironed out, it was all based on accountability and all things that served to ensure the right thing was happening on behalf of the citizenry."

And later, Knudtson said, when he would drive past the MidAmerica Hotels offices on Mount Auburn Road, if he saw a light on in Drury's corner office, he would stop. On a few occasions, Knudtson said, he had his son with him and it was an opportunity to gain insights and lessons about life.

"He got to spend some time with Mr. Drury, just listening to the many stories that Jim Drury had to tell, and I can't tell you how proud I was to be able to expose my son to that kind of history," Knudtson said. "He was about hard work, commitment and discipline."

Asked what he viewed as his father's most important lessons, Daniel Drury said: "Hard work. Turn off the light switch when you go by. Pick up the piece of paper in the parking lot. Take care of people who can't take care of themselves. And underline can't versus won't."

The work ethic that demanded much of himself and his family became part of the business, Daniel Drury said. "One of the things that is a legacy from him is that people who worked with him and within our organization went other places and succeeded immediately," he said. "There's a man who got his start at the Ramada Inn in Sikeston who is now in charge of finance for EuroDisney.

"And we have people still here who are almost going on 40 years of working here," Daniel Drury said. "That is saying something in today's time."

All of James Drury's children — Kenneth Drury, Daniel, John A. Drury and Diane D. Edwards — have top roles at MidAmerica.

Mixed with the hard work was a love of his family — 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren — and sports that included roles on baseball and fast-pitch softball teams in Kelso in the 1950s, Daniel Drury said.

From his beginnings on a Kelso farm and working construction with his brothers to owning one of the most prominent businesses in town, James Drury applied life's lessons along the way, Daniel Drury said. "For a man without a college education, he could teach all the professors and all of us a thing or two."

Visitation is set for 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Cape Bible Chapel, with a funeral service set for 10 a.m. Thursday at the chapel.


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