Hirst has cancer, said his daughter, Kari Starkey, at an interview before the Nov. 4 awards ceremony at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
“He looks so healthy on the outside,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“People don’t realize how hard he’s fighting on the inside, but his friends always give him energy. Physically, he can’t host this anymore,” she said of his last night to lead the awards. “It’s bittersweet and exhaustive.”
Meanwhile, Hirst, who looks much like Daddy Warbucks, made rounds of conversations, shaking hands and talking jovially. After the awards ceremony, however, he would head straight home to prepare for early-morning chemo treatments, a friend said.
“Everybody in this city is his friend. Vintners love him. Sellers love him. Restaurant employees love him. He loves everybody,” Starkey said.
After this year, the awards will continue with Hirst’s name, celebrating the people who make the restaurant industry boom.
It was a sad but thrilling night for Hirst and his family as he was honored for his service in a surprise announcement — a fund drive is underway to raise enough money to name the Center for Beverage Education at OSU after Hirst.
Fifteen years ago, Hirst helped create the service industry awards program. With it and with help from close friends, the Oklahoma Hospitality Foundation was formed, too. The annual awards banquets-slash-fundraisers have helped the group raise nearly $1 million, Hirst said.
That money goes back into the restaurant community in the form of scholarships to culinary schools, education in restaurant and business management and more, said Tad Blood, a co-founder of the foundation with Hirst and other prominent restauranteurs Peter Holloway and Verej Jazirvar.
In many ways, Hirst helped develop the Oklahoma food service industry as it’s now known.
Back in the 1970s, Hirst is credited with being the first person to bring international beers and California wines into Oklahoma, Starkey said.
“He wasn’t the only one, but he was definitely the first,” Starkey said and laughed.
“He loved — loves — to drink.
He knows what people want. He always told me, ‘Kari, you can do anything you want within reason,’” she said and then laughed again.Starkey calls herself an artistentrepreneur and thanks her father for that.
“We can all follow our dreams when we do things with passion and work together to make it a success,” she said.
A living legacy
“These awards are his legacy,” Hollway said. “His name will always be here. For 30 years, I’ve known this guy, his passion and his love for the people of the wine and food industry.”
To honor the service industry, according to Hirst, is to honor the servers who keep a restaurant running. Holloway agreed.
“Hirst knows everybody’s name, from the dishwasher to the assistant cook to the manager and owner,” Holloway said. “He is the true image of hospitality. People are always surprised by our sophistication when they visit Oklahoma. He bronzed this cowboy state.”
Hirst joked that he’s the purest example of success through finding your love and going for it. When he applied for his earliest jobs in Corpus Christi, Texas, he was asked to name his passions. He told the temp agency secretary, “Sex, alcohol and sports — and not in that order.”
Enough with his raquet. He soon realized he couldn’t make money there. The secretary found him job interviews with Lone Star Beer and Schlitz Brewing Co. Soon, he was working in liquor sales and distribution and relocated his talents to Oklahoma.
One friend joked about the adage of selling ice to Eskimos, “He sold me beer from Chernobyl.” Everyone in the room laughed. But he was serious.
“There’s always time for one more bottle [of wine],” Hirst said throughout his life.
He wants people to live life to its fullest and find what they love to do.
“That’s how all of this comes full circle for me,” he said. “This is always my favorite night of the year.”
As restaurant owners bid thousands of dollars on exclusive wines from Scott & Annie Shull of Raptor Ridge Winery and Ray Coursen of Elyse Winery, money was being raised to educate the men and women who actually run the service industry, said chef Alain Buthion, also co-owner of La Baguette Bistro and Bellini’s.
“Wayne loves women, wine and tennis, and not in that order,” he said and then laughed. It was a refrain through the night — follow what you love, and love what you do.
Monday brought Hirst’s dream full circle.
Monday night’s event — the last one in which Hirst will take a leading role — raised $78,860, most of which will go to scholarships to educate future and current service industry professionals, including management training and culinary schools, organizers said.
vintners say they’ve never seen anything like these awards or this
foundation anywhere else in America,” said friend Patti Colley. “This
wouldn’t have happened without Wayne.”
• Scott & Annie Shull of Raptor Ridge Winery: Annie Shull is President emeritus of the Oregon Pinot Camp Board. Since 1989, Scott Shull has been making Oregon wines first as an independent producer and for the last 16 vintages as a commercial winemaker at Raptor Ridge Winery.
• Ray Coursen of Elyse Winery: In 1987, Ray and Nancy started Elyse Wines with 286 cases of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard, which is still one of their primary fruit sources. For a decade, they were nomads, buying grapes and crushing at various custom crush facilities. Then, in 1997, they finally bought a small winery on Hoffman Lane, in Napa, Calif.
Menu by: Featured chefs included Chef Mark Vannasdall, Chef Josh Valentine of The George Prime Steakhouse, Chef Tuck Curren of Biga Italian Restaurant and Chef Kathryn Mathis of The Metro Wine Bar & Bistro.