The travel industry -- and the nation -- was diminished last month by the loss of two major figures, Curtis Carlson and William Toohey. Despite singular accomplishments that were widely recognized by the trade, both were largely unknown to an American public nonetheless enriched by their contributions.

Carlson, who died at 84 on Feb. 19, was the embodiment of a Horatio Alger hero.

The son of hardworking Swedish immigrants, he parlayed guts, brains and vision into an empire that at the time of his death encompassed 147,000 employees worldwide, reported $7.8 billion in annual revenues and was worth another $14.2 billion in annual revenues to franchisees and licensees.

With momentous business decisions these days increasingly hinging on the whims of focus groups and "team-think" strategists, Carlson's brand of entrepreneurial enterprise will be sorely missed.

Toohey, who died on Feb. 8 at 72, made significant contributions to the domestic side of the industry during his long tenure at the Travel Industry Association and its predecessor organizations.

We owe to him the U.S. Travel Data Center, the annual TIA Pow Wow, the Travel and Tourism Government Affairs Council -- the industry's lobbying group -- and National Tourism Week.

As the head of TIA, he worked quietly to foster a greater understanding of the industry within the halls of government. He frequently was in the news, but he did not seek the spotlight, and his shyness and modesty left many thinking he was a bit aloof.

Often, we take for granted our most successful institutions, with barely a thought about their origins. We should not, however, forget people like Curtis Carlson and William Toohey, who developed them.

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