In the Words of Chesapeake

Henri Landwirth, a Life Well-Lived

Henri Landwirth, a Life Well-Lived

April 30, 2018

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” – Henri Landwirth, 1927-2018

Henri Landwirth devoted his life to serving others.  As founder of Give Kids The World and several other charities, Henri made it his mission to care for the underprivileged, the underserved and the less fortunate.

After surviving five horrendous years in Nazi death and labor camps and with little knowledge of the English language, Henri traveled from Belgium to the United States with $20 in his pocket.  Not long after arriving he was drafted by the US Army, served in the Korean War and learned English. He later used the G.I. Bill to study hotel management while working the night desk at a New York hotel, thus beginning his career in hospitality.

Henri became known for going out of his way to serve guests.  On one occasion, a guest inquired about a clothing store where he could purchase a tie to wear into the hotel dining room. Without giving it a second thought, Henri took off his own tie and gave it to the guest.  The guest was B.G. McNabb, who happened to oversee building of the nation’s early space program. He remembered Henri when he needed a manger to run a hotel that would accommodate the astronauts and their families when in town.

On another occasion, Henri found out that a manager at one of his hotels was refusing to rent rooms to black players on the Detroit Tigers baseball team.  Henri promptly fired the manager and sent a clear message that there would be no bigotry at his hotel.

His compassion for others also led him to become involved with the Make-A-Wish organization, providing wishes for critically-ill children.  Henri would provide free hotel accommodations for the Wish families during their stay in Orlando. “I promised myself that one day, God willing, I would be able to help other people not to suffer as much as I did,” Landwirth once said.

Henri decided a few hotel rooms were not enough so he created Give Kids The World Village in 1986.  At the Village, Wish families could take a break from treatments, have fun, spend time with one another and with other families going through similar experiences.  Since then, 160,000 children and families have had free vacations at the Village.

“Words cannot express the sense of loss we feel today,” said Pamela Landwirth, president and CEO of Give Kids The World. “When people endure what he did — experiencing the worst of humanity — I think it can either make you bitter or lead you to think that you were spared for a reason. Henri recognized that he could move forward with compassion and love. He made a huge difference.” 

The impact he had on others was evident.  On April 28, 2018, hundreds of friends, family and those touched by Henri’s compassion assembled to celebrate a life well lived.  Through laughter and tears, memories of the countless examples of his compassion were shared.

During his incredible life, Henri provided 160,000 children with life-threatening illnesses the vacation of their dreams.  He brought back laughter to those who had forgotten it’s sound, he offered the gift of hope to the hopeless, and he gave unforgettable memories to families that they will forever treasure.

We are committed to continuing Henry’s legacy of making wishes and dreams come true by bringing happiness and hope to children and their families around the world.  What better way to honor a man who has selflessly given so much to so many.