‘HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST’: Columbus remembers a local resident devoted to customer service

Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Republic, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at therepublic.com.

Name: Melvin ‘Melton’ Lightfoot

City/Town: Columbus

Age: 67

Died: Dec. 26

Not everyone knew his real first name, or that he had a twin brother whose name played into his nickname “Melton.”

But those who knew Melvin “Melton” Lightfoot said they would never forget him and his legendary friendliness and customer service at the former Holiday Inn on Columbus’ west side, where he served as a “busser” for more than 38 years, continuing on when the facility became the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.

Lightfoot, 67, died the day after Christmas at Columbus Regional Hospital after suffering from COVID-19 for about 10 days, leaving his family and co-workers grieving the loss of a customer service champion who never forgot the importance of a smile and exceeding a customer’s expectations.

His sister, Kathleen Anderson, said some people may be confused by the use of “Melvin” in his obituary because they have always known him as “Melton.” But actually, Anderson said, Melvin was his first name. “Melton” came from rhyming with his twin brother’s name Elton, who now lives in Indianapolis.

But for those who remember Melton, it isn’t about the name, but the way he made those around him feel when he served them room service or cleared the dishes from the table at the Holiday Inn and later at the Clarion.

“He had this outgoing, bubbly personality,” his sister said. “He was a real people person. There were no strangers to him anywhere.”

Lightfoot lived on his own in Columbus, but was a Developmental Services Inc. client after moving to the city from Alabama in 1977. Anderson said her brother was “slow” about some things, and had a speech impediment, but did not let any disability stop him from pursuing a job. With the Opportunity Center’s help (the agency before DSI), he was hired at the Holiday Inn.

Chiquita Snyder, who met Lightfoot and Patterson when she started at the Holiday Inn as a server in 1991, grew close to both employees as she worked her way up to general manager.

“All those years, Melton worked so hard. He was one of the most hard-working people I ever worked with or supervised,” she said.

Acknowledging Melton’s communication skills were limited, he still tried to do everything he could to make sure customers were happy. Snyder said if he was having difficulty communicating to the customer, he would let others know that he needed help so the customer could get what was needed.

It was the way Melton presented himself to the public, smiling, being helpful, that made him approachable, Snyder said.

“He had a smile that could light up a room,” she said.

One of the proudest moments of Lightfoot’s life was receiving the 2015 Hoosier Hospitality Award for outstanding contributions to the tourism industry during a ceremony at the Indiana State Fair, Anderson said.

His nomination said Lightfoot displayed concern for each Clarion guest and multiple guests described him as the hotel’s hardest-working employee.

Lightfoot was among 20 hospitality employees who received the award from Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who is now president of Ivy Tech Community College.

“He was very proud to talk to the lieutenant governor,” his sister said.

His sister said it is unknown how Melton might have contracted the COVID-19 virus, although Caldwell speculated he may not have understood the danger of the virus.

— Contributed by The Republic, Columbus