Some people cast long shadows. Veteran housekeeping trainer Avril Sule pens a heartfelt tribute to one such legend – retired housekeeper Sophie DeLorme – who adhered to the highest standards throughout her career.
Long before housekeeping was considered to be a career, Ms Sophie DeLorme was the reigning housekeeper of the Fariyas Hotel. I had the privilege of meeting her when I was sent on observation training from IHM – Mumbai under the ILO program for faculty training at all the institutes under the National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology.
At our first meeting, I was intimidated by her towering stature and stern expression. As we conversed, her passion for housekeeping was evident. She came from a nursing background with no formal training in hotel housekeeping. This did not deter her from excellence in work and developing exceptional supervisory skills. Clearly, she had strong views on punctuality, behaviour and above all, on hygiene and sanitation.
She often described her standard of cleanliness as: “The floor should be so clean that you can eat off it.” This was something that she actually followed in her own spotlessly clean home where the kitchenette and the bathing room were a shared space!
In the fortnight that I spent on observation, I would accompany her on inspection rounds and noticed that just as soon as they saw her, the staff would scurry off like mice to their work areas. Sophie had a no-nonsense approach to running the housekeeping department. She dismissed paperwork as trash to be put in a bin and relied on her diary and phenomenal memory. She was unconventional in her approach… on one occasion, the hotel union was becoming somewhat aggressive and she was targeted for calling someone a ‘fool’. She very innocently and sweetly explained that she was referring to a flower (phool) and actually got away with it!
We already knew that we had an Anglo-Indian connection. Then we discovered that she had lived on rent in a bungalow in Byculla (in Mumbai) soon after marriage. It was the same bungalow that my parents rented and where I grew up and I was still living in it at the time that Sophie and I met. Our bonding was sealed and thereafter, she referred to me as ‘my girl’. Several years later she invited me to conduct a training programme for the housekeeping staff at Fariyas Lonavala…it was the first training that I conducted outside of the IHM campus.
In an era when recycling was not exactly a ‘thing’, she salvaged a rocking chair discarded by her neighbour and restored it. It stood in her room for several years.
Over the years, I would visit her whenever I went to South Mumbai. My daughter Pria and her friend accompanied me on one such occasion and were very curious to see this ‘Aunty Sophie’ who had a rocking chair and a kitchen in her bathing room. When I shifted out of Mumbai to work and then later moved to stay in the other end of the city, the visits became fewer. The last we met was when I surprised her on her eightieth birthday. Family and friends had organised a little celebration and I was so happy to be part of it.
Earlier this year, I received a message from her niece Anagha that Sophie had passed away. Although it was a sad moment, I consider myself lucky to have met Sophie DeLorme. She inspired me to hone my housekeeping skills and gave me the confidence to conduct a training programme away from my workplace. Thank you Sophie, for allowing me to be part of your legacy. I will endeavour to pass it on!