Denver businessman affected lives of locals |

Denver businessman affected lives of locals

Scott N. Miller

Willis McFarlane is being remembered in Denver for his work in the hotel and restaurant business and for his help reviving that city’s symphony orchestra. But his life is being remembered locally, too.

McFarlane, 75, died Thursday in Denver.

Debbie Marquez, co-owner of Fiesta’s New Mexican Cantina in Edwards, worked for McFarlane’s hotel company in Denver, then transferred to the Holiday Inn that company ran in Vail near the main Vail interchange.

“His reputation among the people who worked in his hotels was very respectful,” Marquez said. “People loved him.”

And McFarlane loved his people. And he remembered them. Judy Scopelleti also worked at the Holiday Inn when McFarlane owned it in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Years later, she ran into McFarlane at the Safeway store in Vail.

“I went up to him and said, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but..’ and he said, ‘You’re Judy Scopelleti. How could I forget?'” she said. “He remembered everyone’s names and where they worked.”

McFarlane sold his hotel company in 1989. About the same time, he founded the Denver Buffalo Co., a restaurant that served bison from his ranch in Elbert County.

McFarlane also was a member of the committee that merged the Denver Symphony into the newly created Colorado Symphony Orchestra in 1990. He served for a time as the chairman of that orchstra’s board.

Both Marquez and Scopelleti have worked their entire adult lives in the hospitality and restaurant businesses. Both said what they learned from McFarlane has been crucial to their subsequent careers.

“He really invested in people,” Scopelleti said. “He really believed in giving people the right tools to do their jobs.”

Marquez, who’s helped build Fiesta’s into a local landmark, echoed that sentiment. “Their vision of hospitality, and what a service-driven company should be, was really important to my life,” she said.

Beyond work, though, Scopelleti remembers his love of the ranch he owned for many years near Minturn.

“That ranch was his baby,” Scopelleti said. “We catered his wedding there from the Holiday Inn.”

His love of that ranch reflected his sense of fun, Scopelleti said.

“You had fun working for him,” she said. “And he went through life enjoying it. I thought all hotel companies were like that. And then I went to work for another company, and boy, it wasn’t like that at all.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or

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