Jimmy Elidrissi, the bald-headed Waldorf Bellhop whose famed sight and name helped keep Washington’s most famous metro stations running in the thick of the 1970s blizzard, has died. He was 74.
Mr. Elidrissi died Oct. 8 at a hospital in Marietta, Ga., said family friend Bill Gardner. He had been treated for stomach cancer.
When the U.S. government declared a state of emergency in Washington’s downtown area for March 2, 1979, it left the nation’s capital within hours of a disastrous blizzard. The temperature on the ground was just 34 degrees, with wind chill factors approaching minus 50.
People could barely see in the wind. Sirens thundered and fire-truck engines whined through the streets. Many cars could not be driven in the snow and ice. The temperature dipped below zero. And commuters could not get to their jobs.
Until some young hoses arrived, the country’s capital kept more than 30 stations running. The Snow Boy wagon delivered the stacks of foot-long, hose-finished steel fire hydrants.
An inscription on the rear door of the engine of the half-ton Snow Boy wagon states simply, “Winter Endures.”
The repairs began early in the morning of March 2. The wagon’s main engine, on which its bright yellow hue was visible throughout the area, went only so far.
By 6 a.m., Mr. Elidrissi and his crew were on their second day in the spring storm. This was the second big storm of the winter. The Washington Police Department regularly tows white-out vehicles off the streets, but when there was no traction, officers could not intervene.
So the Gardens crew sent a letter to President Jimmy Carter, thanking him for the order to remain open.
“These Firemen of the Five Winds tirelessly attempt to maintain a working sense of normalcy in a world at peril,” Mr. Elidrissi said. “It is in these circumstances that your order today provides so much help to us, and to the people in this area who desire normalcy and with whom we are all connected.”
The wind chill made the price tag for shoveling passengers on platforms rise. After one night of labor, Mr. Elidrissi realized the cost of getting the lines off the tracks might be a profitable challenge. That’s when he painted on his bright yellow helmet with a green line that said “Waldorf Bellhop.”
He also painted pink on the station’s canopy, in honor of the chain of Russian hotels started by the Motherland. If guests of the hotel lost luggage, he said, ” I promise you it will be returned to you.”
The Waldorf Bellhop became a Washington institution. William Waldorf Bellpot lived in Baltimore but became a proud native of Trinidad.
His wife, Marcia Gross Katz Elidrissi, said that her husband was pleased with the attention.
“He was the luckiest man in the world,” she said. “God let him live and give him that privilege.”
But with the early-morning snowstorm of late March 1979 — the biggest blizzard Washington had seen in 20 years — the authorities could no longer rely on Mr. Elidrissi. Sixteen other firefighters had been hurt. And a third of the city’s equipment needed to be repaired or completely rebuilt.
In another blizzard that swept through Washington in early January, Mr. Elidrissi and his crew kept the nearly 30 stations open. They helped clear stairwells at United Nations buildings and the District of Columbia’s empty and unused International Printing Service buildings.
“The man from Waldorf will never be forgotten,” said Charles Allen, the president of D.C. Utilities. “A legend.”
Mr. Elidrissi started as a radiator jumper truck operator in 1964 at the parade grounds on Georgia Avenue near the White House. For 25 years, he worked first at the Eleanor Roosevelt’s Park in Georgetown and then at the Fleet Street station, next to the Library of Congress on Massachusetts Avenue.
There he came to know the congressional members and staffers, ambassadors and U.S. District Court employees who passed in and out.
His family members said he always spoke of his daughter, Linda, a nursing student in Florida, and his four sons: Albert in Washington, Brian in Omaha, Elliott in the Bronx and Daniel in Arlington, Va.