With holiday hosting on most everyone’s mind, there could be no more appropriate subject than Billy Maddalon for qnotes’ latest Our People Q&A. A prominent Charlotte businessowner, community leader and, most importantly, husband and father, Maddalon has devoted decades to his role as proprietor of the VanLandingham Estate and the Morehead Inn. Born and raised right here in the QC, he possesses a rare understanding of the city’s sensibilities. It’s a quality that’s helped to make his career in hospitality not merely a job, but a vocation. Now, Maddalon gifts qnotes readers a sample of the wisdom of his experience, as a host, a City Councilmember, a newspaper columnist and a proud family man.
The rapid influx of new residents to the Charlotte area has been well documented. While you’re a Queen City native, was there ever a time you considered pursuing a life somewhere else?
Charlotte was a great town to grow up in and it’s been a great city to start a business and raise my family. I had considered staying in Raleigh after college, but the chance to live close to family and be a part of the Charlotte story just drew me back.
As an owner and operator of the Morehead Inn, as well as longtime proprietor of the VanLandingham Estate, you’re uncommonly qualified to speak on the topic of hosting. What, in your opinion, makes a good (or bad) host?
First and foremost, a good host has to be glad to be there with their guests. If it’s a bother or chore guests can tell. I love entertaining, so for me it’s always been a joy to host guests from all over the world. I like to think they can tell I’m truly glad to be there and have them as my guest.
From the opposite perspective, what makes a good (or bad) guest? Have you acquired any particularly stunning anecdotes of hospitality gone awry?
Unfortunately, in the hospitality industry a “bad” guest usually means they are disrespectful to their surroundings. It’s somehow become okay for folks to go to social events and not wipe their feet, spill drink and food and not clean it up, over consume alcohol and be generally uncaring about their surroundings and those around them. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality. And all of us pay for it in higher prices charged to recoup the costs.
Complications aside, how do you and your staff make this time of year special at the Morehead Inn?
People love traditional, festive decorations and traditional holiday foods. I suspect it all goes back to what we remember about our childhoods and how special the colors, music, food and even just the smells were to us. I like to keep the holidays simple and to focus on what each of us cherish from our youth.
In addition to your own long career in the hospitality sector, you and your husband Brooks have served as foster parents to 19 children. What advice would you give other current or prospective foster parents who want to help their kids feel welcome and at home during the holiday season?
Remember that you’re never too old to enjoy Christmas and Hanukkah and all of the holiday traditions. Inside every adult is a big kid. We all want to go back and be a kid during the holidays. And, fortunately, there aren’t any rules saying we can’t!
Announcing this year’s panel of contributing columnists (you being one of only two holdovers from the previous 12 months), The Charlotte Observer described both you and Brooks specifically as licensed Therapeutic Foster Parents. What does that designation signify?
The term “therapeutic” in foster parenting means that we participate in additional training so that we can better parent children who’ve endured the most sever forms of maltreatment and abuse. Trauma that results from neglect and abuse has a powerful impact on young lives, so it’s important to have parents who are as prepared as possible to recognize the symptoms and triggers associated with it, as well as employ best practice care so that crisis situations can be minimized.
What sorts of topics have you addressed in your editorial writing thus far? What new subjects or themes do you hope to confront in 2019?
I’ve chosen to go in all sorts of directions. I’ve commented on everything from the value of tiny houses, what I learned from elected office, the school to prison pipeline, mental health care in N.C. for children and even suicide. Believe it or not, I really don’t plan in advance what I’m going to write about. I usually take on whatever is a hot topic at the moment or whatever’s on my heart. It’s been a joy and privilege to be able to continue to share my thoughts with our community each month.
You’ve simultaneously run the Morehead Inn and the VanLandingham Estate, the latter of which operated for many years as a bed-and-breakfast and events venue. Is it difficult to leave the business of the holidays at the office and feel truly present in your family’s celebrations?
It used to be, but my family is pretty quick to get me straightened out and remind me that they’re not my employees, and we’re not at the office. It’s an important lesson for all of us to be truly present for any time we’re with family.
While hosting a Charlotte City Council meeting probably isn’t most people’s idea of a holiday, your résumé includes a stint there, as well as a campaign for the North Carolina General Assembly. What prompted you to get involved in politics? Do you harbor any further ambitions along those lines?
Well I’ve always loved serving my community. For many years I was happy to be behind the scenes and to serve in grass roots efforts in the community. I’ve been fortunate to serve on a number of non-profit and civic boards, all of which are doing the important work every day of making lives better. For me the chance to serve on City Council was unexpected and when the opportunity arose, I said yes. I was unaware until after I was chosen that I was the first “out” gay man to serve on Charlotte’s City Council, which was humbling. I definitely didn’t want to screw it up! It was a fantastic learning opportunity for me and I’d like to think I made a small difference, if even just as a role model for younger LGBT folks who might want to serve.
As for the future, I guess we’ll have to see. I’m not opposed to running for office again and serving. I certainly have the passion and drive and I’m only 51, so I’ve got a few more gigs in me. But as in all things, the timing, circumstances and opportunity have to intersect.
And finally, when you consider your numerous accomplishments, of what achievement are you most proud?
I am most proud of my family. I have an amazing husband in Brooks Shelley, which is the foundation for everything I’ve been able to achieve. And together, we both took a significant risk 13 or so years ago when we decided to start our journey as therapeutic foster parents. Most of our friends thought we were crazy, and we probably were. But look at where it’s led us. We’ve parented 19 beautiful children and adopted three wonderful boys who’ve become fine young men. At the same time, we discovered in ourselves a relevance and meaning in life we would have never experienced otherwise. What a life!