Richmond Review

Richmond Resident Retires Role of Iconic Doorman

By Judith Kahn

Tom Sweeney in 1981 wearing his trademark Beefeater outfit from his days as the doorman at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. The Richmond District resident, once considered the most photographed person in the City, is retired but has kept himself busy. Courtesy photo.

After more than 40 years as doorman and living landmark at the historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Tom Sweeney, a Richmond District resident and native San Franciscan, retired on Jan. 20. 

Joe D’Alessandro, the president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, commented that Sweeney has not been just the ambassador but the embodiment of San Francisco spirit – cheerful, helpful, upbeat, and welcoming. He even earned his own plaque on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. 

In his 40-pound Beefeater jacket, knickers, red socks to the knees and black hat decked with red and white flowers, Sweeney cut a distinguished figure as he stood guard outside the Union Square hotel.

His career as doorman began as a part-time position at age 19. The summer job turned into a career that lasted 43 years.

Sweeney saw his role as being a “ringmaster, porter, constable, valet and concierge” – all in an eight-hour day. 

“It’s one of the best jobs in the City!” he declared. 

He said he loved standing guard outside the hotel, watching the cable cars as they clanged their bells up and down Powell Street, his home-away-from-home for four decades. The job was exciting, and he met people from all walks of life. 

“San Francisco treated me like royalty,” Sweeney said. He shook hands with presidents from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama. He is proud of his photos with celebrated figures from British Prime Minister Tony Blair to San Francisco football legends Joe Montana and Dwight Clark, who took the 49ers to their first Super Bowl win. He also has a small snapshot of himself with actress Sharon Stone. 

Sweeney said he has been interviewed by television stations around the country and halfway around the world. He had a role in the daytime drama “The Young and the Restless” and has been featured in many television shows and commercials.

Growing up in the Sunset District, Sweeney’s father was an executive for Chevron Oil, often traveling for the company. His grandfather was a member of the San Francisco Fire Department. 

Sweeney attended Holy Name School and A.P. Giannini  Middle School in the Outer Sunset, then went to Archbishop Riordan High School. He earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management at City College of San Francisco. 

For many years, his parents owned Sweeney’s Ice Cream Land, a well-known toy, candy and ice cream store on Haight Street.

In 1981, Sweeney tackled a robber making off with stolen suitcases and was honored by then-mayor Dianne Feinstein. 

After standing guard and assisting guests for so many decades, he said it was a good time to retire. 

“I’ve had a lot of great things happen to me during my career, but things had changed,” Sweeney said.

He explained that, with the coming of Uber and suitcases with wheels, there were no longer 200 cabs a day filled with people wanting assistance with their luggage. Most guests carry their own bags. Plus, tipping has fallen off since many people have stopped carrying cash.

Sweeney ran the Bay to Breakers race in his 40-pound jacket 40 times. He has completed 32 marathon runs inside and outside the U.S., including Boston, New York, Alaska, Hawaii, Vancouver and London. Because of his work at the hotel, when he visited the marathon cities, he was able to stay in top hotels for $50 a night. That was the icing on the cake. 

Now that he is officially retired, Sweeney said he is spending time with his family. He has been married to his wife, Cindy, for 11 years, and they have been together for 26 years. They raised two children, Erin and Greg, and are now proud grandparents of four grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 5 years. 

In addition to spending time with his family, Sweeney keeps busy by day trading in the stock market – his avocation since 1990 – and running every day. 

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