Fred Malek, the former president of the Marriott hotel chain and one of the Republican Party’s most influential fundraisers, has died, his office confirmed Monday.
Malek died Sunday at age 82. A cause of death was not immediately available. Malek underwent treatment for bladder cancer about five years ago.
Malek was one of the most enduring figures in Republican politics and his prodigious fundraising on behalf of GOP candidates put him at the center of presidential politics for more than four decades.
He worked for Richard Nixon’s administration, ran the 1988 Republican National Convention in the run-up to George H.W. Bush’s election and managed Bush’s unsuccessful re-election campaign in 1992. He later served as finance chairman of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential bid.
Malek also was a top fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association and helped found the American Action Network, a political nonprofit that pushed conservative policy.
Although he did not engage in President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Trump in 2017 appointed him to chair the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Over his long career in politics, Malek also faced recurring criticism for his role in compiling a list of Jews working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics at Nixon’s request – something for which he apologized repeatedly over the years.
“I made a mistake 41 years ago for which I apologized,” Malek told USA Today during a 2012 interview at the Republican National Convention. “It’s something I regret.”
At the time, former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who is Jewish and co-founded the American Action Network with Malek, told the paper that anti-Semitism “is not even in (Malek’s) universe.”
On Monday, Coleman praised Malek as a “fearless warrior in life and in politics.”
“Fred never walked away from a fight that needed to be fought,” Coleman said.
In a statement, Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, called Malek a “giant.”
“He rose from the humblest of beginnings to serve as a dedicated public servant and counselor to presidents and a decisive, inspirational leader in business, real estate and hotel management,” they said.
Frederic Malek grew up in the Chicago area, the son of a beer delivery truck driver. He attended West Point and became an Army Ranger. He graduated from Harvard’s business school in 1964.
His business career spanned several fields. In addition to his role at Marriott, he served as Northwest Airlines’ chief executive and even dabbled in sports as a co-owner – with George W. Bush and other investors – of the Texas Rangers baseball team.
His most recent venture – Thayer Lodging Group, named for an early superintendent of West Point – invested in hotel real estate. Malek donated to and raised millions for his favorite causes, including West Point and the Richard Nixon Foundation.
The visitors’ center at West Point bears his name.