SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Legend has it; he's the most photographed person in San Francisco and definitely, the most helpful.
Tom Sweeney, the famed and friendly doorman in the Beefeater suit at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel is celebrating 40 years of service.
In honor of the occasion, Mayor Ed Lee proclaimed May 2, "Tom Sweeney Day".
The 58-year-old married father of two is a fixture on Powell Street.
"I carry between 500-700 suitcases a day" Sweeney says with a wink, adding that he hails about 200 cabs a day. "All I can say is there'd be a lot of lost people without a doorman out here. It seems like just yesterday I put this uniform on. I've been through 43 of these uniforms. My first uniform cost only $500, and now it costs $3,000."
The position started as a summer job. "I got accepted to San Francisco Fire Department, but I was too young to go in, so I held onto this job until I got the call, but I wouldn't trade this for anything."
Dressed in red, white, gold and black from head to foot, the fast-talking, energetic Sweeney says he poses for 500 photos a day on average. "I'm made up from all over the world," he beamed. "My hat is from L.A., uniform is from NY, my socks are from Sunset Soccer Store in the Sunset District, my shoes are from Australia and my doorman whistle [toots whistle] Taxi! Taxi!..is from London."
"My most asked question is where does the cable car stop? At least 25,000 times a year, [I get asked that]," said Sweeney. "Then the next one is where is Fisherman's Wharf? That's another 15,000. And the last 10 years, where's an ATM machine?"
Sweeney is so popular he's got a Hollywood star of sorts on the hotel sidewalk, a doll in his likeness, his own signature cocktail (the Sweeney-tini served in the Starlight Room) and even his own signature saying, "Oh yeah, oh yeah," which he does with a snap of his fingers and pointing of the index finger.
"To watch him every day and to be able to share him with San Francisco…he is a treasure," said Leif Abram, lead concierge at the Sir Francis Drake. "It's cold and you have to be the master of that world out there, that front of the Drake is an amazing thing and for him to keep it organized and to keep traffic going and to keep guests happy and to be Tom, it's an incredible thing."
Sweeney thinks his fame began in 1981 thanks to an award given to him by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein.
Sweeney was honored with the ‘Nick of Time’ Award for tackling two robbers who stole some tourists' luggage. An accomplished marathon runner, Sweeney had no trouble running down the block and pouncing on the two thugs, who both ended up in jail. It just so happened that 49ers Joe Montana and Dwight Clark received the same award that year for "The Catch," which led to the defeat of the Dallas Cowboys and the 49ers' first Super Bowl.
As a thank you for nabbing the thugs, the Sir Francis Drake sent Sweeney on an all-expense paid trip to Acapulco. While he was walking the beach with a buddy, he spotted a couple drowning in the ocean. He swam out and saved the woman, while a lifeguard saved the man. To say Sweeney is helpful would be an understatement. He helps millions of people every year.
"You have to know everything within at least two miles from here. Every question they ask you, you got to know everything," said Sweeney. "All the restaurants and nightclubs, you got to know the Muni routes, you got to know so much. You're just an important job to a hotel and you're the first and last person they see."
Sweeney thinks he'll probably retire within the next five years. People have appreciated him from every inch of the globe and he's appreciated them. He's put two full-grown kids through college, has a summer home and a house in San Francisco.
It's a job he's got down pat. As he blows his whistle for another taxi and single handedly hauls three pieces of luggage to the street, Sweeney is brimming with excitement and sincerity at the same time. He manages to prattle off some directions to somewhere and with a tip of his hat and an "oh, yeah," he waves goodbye.
We know what's kept the Beefeater doorman successful these past four decades; it's the fact that Tom Sweeney never has a bad day, he's always upbeat, willing to help, and never forgets a name. It's a throwback to an era seemingly long-gone. These days, that goes a long way.