Drumheller, a former chairman of the city’s Tourism and Arts Commission, played a key role in the region’s hospitality industry and beyond, serving on the board of directors of Travel Portland and most recently as founder of the 62,773-square-foot Columbia Point Hotel in Tri-Cities, Washington.
“I’ve known Tom for 30 years, and we’ve been business partners since 1999,” Patrick Nofield, the president of Escape Lodging, said. “There’s nobody like him. It’s a huge void — not just for those who loved him, but for our community, and the people of eastern Washington where he grew up.”
According to Nofield, Drumheller was diagnosed with metastasized colon cancer in August. “When they were in the hospital they found cancer was all over his body,” Nofield said. “It was totally unexpected.”
Nofield said Drumheller did not want to spend his last days in the hospital, so he returned to home hospice in Cannon Beach.
He had friends and family members come from all over the Northwest, Nofield said. “For the last week of his life it was like one continuous party. Tom was greeting everyone, engaging people, meeting with employees, sharing stories, sharing humor.”
A career in hospitality
John Thomas Drumheller, known as “Tom,” was born and raised in Walla Walla, Washington, on Aug. 15, 1953. Drumheller’s family worked in the hardware business for generations.
Growing up, he watched how his father used humor and respect to develop strong relationships with customers.
That set the foundation of his philosophy toward the hotel and restaurant industry, where he worked for 25 years before establishing his own business.
A key experience came when Tom turned 9; he was hit by a baseball, Nofield said.
The ball concaved his skull and he lost all ability to talk. “They were able to do surgery and put the skull where it needed to be, but he had to reteach himself to talk,” Nofield said.
His mother, a schoolteacher, read him the Dr. Seuss classic, “Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose.”
The incident inspired Drumheller’s future career direction, Nofield said.
“Thidwick always wanted to take care of his guests, and of all the people I have ever met, Tom was the most hospitable person to anyone, whether it be a housekeeper at one of our hotels, or whether it be a billionaire developer,” Nofield said. “He treats them all the same. All with love and all with encouragement.”
After graduation from the Carson College of Business at Washington State University, Drumheller participated in the Hyatt Hotel management training program before establishing Escape Lodging of Cannon Beach as its chief executive officer in 2001.
Escape Lodging also owns the Ocean Lodge, The Inn at Cannon Beach and other lodging properties and restaurants in Oregon and Washington state. Drumheller served on the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association Board of Directors, Washington State University Hotel and Restaurant Advisory Board of Directors and Travel Portland Board of Directors.
In 2014, Drumheller and Tom Krueger teamed to open Tom’s Fish & Chips restaurant at 240 N. Hemlock St.
Drumheller said in a 2014 interview his goal was to “try to make it really, really cozy, especially during the offseason for the locals.”
Drumheller and Krueger opened a second location in Seaside this summer.
“I was very fortunate to have some great mentors I admired and learned a great deal from,” Drumheller said in an alumni magazine profile. “When one of them passed away, it spurred me, along with my future business partner, to take what I had learned and start my own company. It was both very scary and exciting. The risk-to-reward ratio has been better than I could have imagined.”
This spring he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Carson College of Business Hall of Fame.
The city mourns
Friends and family gathered in his last days to salute the man they had grown to know and love.
Robin Risley was among the founding members of the arts commission when Drumheller served as chairman.
“He was such a fun person to have at the meeting,” Risley said. “He did things with a sense of humor. We didn’t all come from the same place, but he was so inclusive that most of the decisions were made were fair and forward thinking. I just appreciated him so much. He always had such a twinkle in his eye.”
Cannon Beach Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn knew Drumheller as a member of the Tourism Advisory Committee.
“When I started with the city five years ago, the city manager at the time said, ‘There’s a list of people you need to meet,’ and he was at the top of the list,” Schermerhorn said. “He always had a smile on his face, and very generous when he gave back to the community.”
“He was a huge rock here in Cannon Beach,” said Court Carrier, the executive director of the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce. “He was important — a hospitality executive for decades.”
Drumheller and his wife, Christy Lynn, have two adult daughters, Brook Burnett and Britney Drumheller.
A memorial service will be scheduled.