By Nancy Rineman
Atlantic News, Thursday, May 13, 2004[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News.]
HAMPTON — Patrons and employees of Hannaford Food and Drug in Hampton bid a fond farewell to Kathy Hilton last week, as the veteran manager of the store's renowned seafood department left her position to relocate to warmer climes.
It is a bittersweet move for Hilton. Her fondness for her clientele as well as for her co-workers made her longtime dream to establish new roots in Florida with her husband, Fred Ramsey, just a tad difficult.
"I found a home here," Hilton said in an interview at Hannaford last Friday, adding that to some she had become a "mother image" at the store. But the Florida move has been something she and her husband have always wanted to do, and upon his retirement, years of planning suddenly came life.
Hilton's expertise in seafood stems from a lifelong association with that industry. Her father, Red Hilton, was well known in fishing circles, and for his striped bass charters out of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Following his death, Kathy opened Captain Red's Fish Market in Newburyport in her father's memory, which her husband managed for seven years. Hilton recalled that running the business went well in the summer, but was "tough in the winter." Today, Hilton's Fishing Dock is a marina and whale watching enterprise run by Kathy's brother, George.
Hilton began her career with Hannaford 15 years ago, when the grocery store was known as Shop 'n Save.
"Mike Robidas hired me and left a lasting impression on me," Hilton recalls. Robidas was a popular store manager known for his innovative methods of getting the job done. His untimely death at a young age was a loss felt by the entire community.
Hilton has seen countless changes and significant growth at Hannaford over the years, including three store remodelings. Fish deliveries are made to the Hampton facility from Portland, Maine, in the wee hours of the morning each day, and typically Hilton's day began at 5:30 a.m.
She said Hannaford has been "wonderful" in supplying the Hampton store with quality fish and variety, something in which Hilton and her fellow workers pride themselves. Patrons now choose from more than 30 varieties of fish and shellfish, and marinated and stuffed selections now adorn the seafood case as well.
Hilton and her husband were set to "hit the road" on Mother's Day, sadly Kathy's first without her own mother, who recently passed away following a lengthy illness. The drive to their new home in the Fort Myers area of Florida will lead Hilton to yet another career in the world of seafood. She will assume a position as a resource and trainer for a Kash 'n Karry store in Bonita Springs, just north of Naples. That store, owned by the same company that owns the Hannaford chain, has adopted the Hannaford systems.
Hilton will be stepping into another remodel situation that begins on her first day there. The 25-year-old store will be implementing a full service seafood department and will undergo a name change as well, eventually becoming known as Sweetbay.
Hilton laughed as she revealed that while she loves to camp and fish, her aquatic transportation is, of all things, simply a paddle boat. While she grew up on salt water, the Plum Island native says that there was nothing like sitting on Pawtuckaway Lake "trying to catch that elusive small mouth bass!"
While Hilton will be in her element in the Florida sunshine (she's a certified Parrot Head fan of Jimmy Buffet), she said she has many memories from Hannaford Food and Drug in Hampton. In turn, patrons and coworkers alike will forever remember her signature displays in the seafood cases. Be it lobsters and other fish sporting sunglasses amidst a tropical background in summer or Santa Claus hats in December, Hilton had a flair not only for fish but for fun.
Hilton said she was very lucky to retain her employees over the years, with everyone "rowing in the same direction."
"It's a business, just like running a ship," she added.
And Hilton was also blessed with developing special friendships with "three lovely friends" in Helen, Linda and Jamie, left behind to carry on the Kathy Hilton tradition of excellence in seafood at Hannaford.
"It's been a most wonderful crew and a blast to row the boat with ... just awesome," Hilton said, summing up her Hampton Hannaford years.
And without a doubt, her fond memories of those who made her job so terrific will be equally matched by fond wishes from those same people who are missing her now. Best wishes, Kathy, and enjoy!