Frater Mark Romig
AT THE HEART OF NOLA
The story of Mark Romig, PGP
This story originally appeared in the spring 2015 edition of THE TEKE.
Safe away from the searing August heat in Washington, D.C., Tau Kappa Epsilon’s 2013 Conclave was wrapping up its second day in the Grand Hyatt hotel just blocks from the Capitol and White House. As tradition, the projector screen lit up and the lights in the banquet room dimmed. The location for Conclave 2015 was about to be announced.
Eagerly, esteemed alumni and collegiate members waited for a recognizable building to appear or a well-known name to jump on screen. The text “CONCLAVE 2015” appeared. Three ... Two ... One ... . As the anticipation mounted, a gray-haired man jolts onto the screen.
“Hey, I know you are having a good time in Washington,
D.C., but in 2015, you are going to be right here in the city of New Orleans, my hometown,” says the character standing on the edge of the bay with a blue-filled New Orleans sky as backdrop.
Older members cheer in admiration. Younger Fraters, most of whom are unaware of the notable figure, cheer too, but for a different reason. The man who appeared on the screen was Past Grand Prytanis Mark Romig, Life Loyal Teke and recipient of the Order of the Golden Eagle, the Fraternity’s highest award.
His appearance on camera continued for another minute. “We have more restaurants than ever and more attractions than ever. And need I say: the French Quarter; Bourbon Street.”
As if New Orleans was ever a hard sell, there were few doubts left in the room following the minute-and-a-half clip. The Crescent City was set to host Conclave for the seventh time in the Fraternity’s history, and for good reason. The aura, culture, and Creole as they say, have made NOLA a premier venue for an event of fraternity, friends and family.
Historically, Tau Kappa Epsilon has always had a connection to New Orleans, but as of late, the real connection to the Crescent City isn’t the cobblestone streets or world-renowned French Quarter. Instead, the native legend of NOLA, Past Grand Prytanis Mark Romig, stands as the link to the new and the old.
From learning to tie his shoes to graduating from the University of New Or-leans, Past Grand Prytanis Mark Romig is a product of the heart of New Orleans. From the southern shores of Lake Pontchartrain to the city bend of the Mississippi River, NOLA is Mark’s territory. And as much as he’s done for the city, it is nothing compared to what it has done for him.
Frater Mark Romig walked onto the University of New Orleans campus in 1974 as a wide-eyed freshman. Born and raised in the Cajun territory, he made the decision to attend school for a degree in Hotel Restaurant and Tourism Administration from New Orleans’ College of Business Administration just blocks away from Brother Martin High School where he had spent the past four years of his life.
As a heavily involved freshman with high academic marks and a close group of friends who were also attending the University of New Orleans, Frater Romig was in good company. All he had to do was figure out exactly what he wanted to make of his time in school.
“I really never had an intention of joining a fraternity when I approached registration. I knew of the fraternities on campus, but it was not something that was a priority for me. Although shortly after go-ing through registration and understanding the campus layout, I took notice of what they had to offer.”
While Mark was simply pondering the idea of joining a fraternity, the friends who had joined him at school were already making a decision to join an organization, one that Mark did not see himself being a part of. Mark was set to forge his own path on campus.
“I was rushed by several gentlemen of the Theta-Mu chapter. I liked what they were saying and what TKE stood for, and I liked the opportunity they provided me for involvement.”
Mark simply needed to decide if this was the right choice for him, personally and professionally.
Having served in several organizations at Brother Martin High School in the heart of New Orleans, Mark was looking for a well-rounded group that would allow him to capitalize on his potential. The only question that remained was how quickly he could adapt to a new group of friends in a new organization on a new campus while the friends that followed him to school stuck together.
After coming to a decision, Frater Romig decided to join
the Theta-Mu chapter and was initiated at the start of his second semester in January 1975.
“TKE made the transition very easy. I worked full-time and became involved with the chapter in various roles.”
As the years passed, Frater Romig had earned the respect and trust of his peers and was selected to serve as Prytanis his senior year at the University of New Orleans. That same year, in 1977, Tau Kappa Epsilon held Conclave in the Crescent City. “That was the first Conclave I remember being a part of. That was also the August that Frater Elvis Presley passed away.”
While Conclave serves as an opportunity to experience the fraternal brotherhood we share as Fraters in the Bond, the 1977 Con-clave was a time to celebrate the life of a Frater who was loved by the world. To Tekes, Frater Elvis Presley didn’t leave—he simply moved on to the Chapter Eternal. A special moment was had to remember the legacy Frater Presley left behind, but Conclave moved on with all the pomp and circumstance that occurred every other year.
“Attending Conclave was like going to a Hollywood premier. It was larger than life. It’s the showbiz of the Fraternity. The production, the big crowds, the staging; it’s just a special event for the Fraternity.”
Conclave was also set to be a special event for Frater Mark Romig. As Prytanis of an extremely successful Theta-Mu Chapter in New Orleans, Frater Romig was responsible for picking up then-Grand Prytanis William H. Wisdom from the airport. “These were all my heroes. I was nervous as hell and he walks off the plane in a red jacket; he looked like Santa Claus. I learned over the years that the Grand Council members are just like us.”
Frater Romig was presented with a number of awards in recognition of his service to the Fraternity as a collegiate member. He was named a Top Teke and received the Danny Thomas TKE Scholarship for his work on behalf of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, organizing
one of TKE’s first keg rolls to raise money for Danny Thomas’ lifesaving mission.
“My first year taste of Conclave was a pretty special one,” says Mark in a humble manner.
Then, just as quickly as Conclave had arrived, it came to an end. The production packed up, made its way back to the Offices of the Grand Chapter, and the planning for the next biennial event was underway.
Almost a year after the 1977 Conclave, Mark graduated in May of 1978. “I was recruited to join the TKE Staff, but other possibilities presented themselves for me to stay in New Orleans.” With a chance to utilize his Hotel Restaurant and Tourism Administration degree following graduation, Frater Romig passed on the opportunity to serve on the Fraternity’s Professional Staff. Fortunately, he continued to support Tekes in the area by volunteering on the regional level until his career took him for a wild ride.
Following graduation, Frater Romig established a name for himself through his leadership and positive attitude. With an opening like no other, Mark was selected to serve as the Director of Protocol and Guest Relations for the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair.
Serving directly under World’s Fair Chief Executive Officer
Petr Spurney, Frater Mark Romig achieved great renown. Anticipating and addressing the needs of VIPs around the city, Mark was in the company of influential figures from around the world. Unfortunately, with a lackluster performance cited for a number of reasons, the World’s Fair was lurching to an unmemorable performance. Two years prior, the Fair had visited New Orleans’ northern neighbor, Knoxville, Tenn., and was set to go across the boarder to Vancouver, British Columbia, two years following its stay in New Orleans.
“Best job I ever had,” said Frater Romig in an interview with the New Orleans Advocate paper in 2014. “The world was in New Orleans and it was very special.” It was so special that despite a number of layoffs and cuts to staff, Frater Romig held on to a check for $2.84 that represented his last five weeks of pay from the Fair.
With a certain tenacity and unrivaled display of perseverance, his efforts during the World Fair presented more options to the already established figure in the New Orleans community. “I knew the Fair was going to end and I was going to be out of a job, so I needed to make a career move.”
Through a connection to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole, Frater Romig worked to earn a position in the nation’s capital. “You have to go through White House personnel and work your way through the process. They instructed me on the process, arranged for the interviews and accepted my letters of recommendation. It was certainly a long process, but at the end, Mrs. Dole’s staff hired me, and it actually presented me with an opportunity to be in the presence of the President.”
Working in the nation’s capital presented Frater Romig with a number of opportunities personally and professionally. And like many individuals in the D.C. area who have had interactions with Washington’s elite, it was something that Frater Romig never forgot when he found himself in the same room with the President of the United States, Frater Ronald Reagan.
In a hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., Frater Romig explains what led up to the event. “The President was attending an event,” says Romig. “I was advancing the Doles into a holding room and the President quickly comes in right before the doors close. The next thing I know, I’m in a room with Senator Dole, his wife and the President. I shouldn’t have been in the room and I needed to get out, but the President was quicker than me so I snaked my way against the wall and snuck out to do more important things.”
Down the road, Frater Romig had
another chance to meet the President of the United States, but this time, there was no reason to sneak out. “I went to the opening of the Reagan Library as a guest and I was in line to shake hands with the President. As he was walking around the room, I stuck my hand out and he reached to shake my hand. I gave him the grip and he said, ‘Eureka.’
I responded with ‘University of New Or-leans.’ It was definitely a special moment in my life.”
Following Frater Romig’s time in D.C., he moved back to New Orleans where he racked up the accolades by giving back to the community that made him the man he is today. He also took on a role that gave him the voice of New Orleans.
For 446 consecutive games, from 1969 to Friday, August 16, 2013, Mark’s father, Frater Jerry Romig, called every New Orleans Saints game. In the luxury boxes and in the cheap seats, Jerry Romig was the voice of the New Orleans Saints until his son took over.
“Dad would take us to the games and we would sit in the booth and just be in awe. We grew up with him calling games for Tulane University’s football program on Saturdays and the Saints on Sundays.” While Mark and his brothers and sisters attended the occasional game, Mark’s mother, Janice, attended every game during the 44-season span with her husband. “They both saw some good football and some really bad football,” laughed Mark.
Of course, Frater Jerry Romig was very fortunate to see history play out in front of his eyes, both literally and figuratively; but after 44 seasons, he had turned off his microphone at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the final time. Looking to continue the Romig legacy in the announcers’ booth, the New Orleans Saints asked Mark if he would be willing to pick up where his father left off.
Now it’s the younger Romig who sits on the 20-yard line on the loge level. “Pretty much before you know it, we are off and I’m announcing the kicker and who is receiving the ball.”
When Mark accepted, that also meant his sister would continue supporting the Romig voice in the announcers’ box. Mark’s sister, Mary Beth, worked with their father for the past 25 years. “She sits beside me and spots the yardage, downs, and stats, and then she shares the information with me.” Also in the booth is Mark’s friend, Brother Francis David, who feeds Mark the play-by- play action. “He has been doing this for 43 years and he actually taught me while I was in high school.”
Between the information provided by his sister and friend, Mark then works to decipher the information and continues to share it with 76,000 screaming fans. “I want you to know that it takes a village.”
Today, Mark still works to perfect the same gritty, monstrous voice his dad became known for in the city of purple and gold. And while he may be known on Sundays as the voice who says, “First dowwwn, Saints!” at every game, Frater Mark Romig is so much more than a voice.
Active in his community, Mark is a member of the board of directors of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and Covenant House of New Orleans, and is also a member of the Tour & Travel Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. His past ventures also include a period of time as president and chairman of the board of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Committee and member of the Fore! Kids Foundation, producers of the annual PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The list of notable titles and positions held continue on a never-ending list.
New Orleans is Frater Mark Romig’s city. He knows it like the back of his hand, and that is why he always cracks a smile when he talks about Conclave 2015.
“New Orleans is a city that truly speaks to the experiential discoverer,” says Mark excitedly. “It is the antithesis to the individual who comes to a pool and reads a book. This city attracts people who are into thrilling and exciting new things.”
Firing off a list of architecturally astounding buildings, savory desserts, and sweet tunes that would appeal to any music critic, Frater Romig shares his favorite spots and must-dos. The excitement he shares is evident, unwavering and undeniable. The passion Mark has for his city has never been more noticeable. This is his home and his life.
As Tau Kappa Epsilon prepares to hold Conclave in New Orleans for the seventh time in the Fraternity’s history, the event promises to be an experience like no other, but to Frater Mark Romig, it will be another memory in a long list of Conclaves in New Orleans.
Three weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit, Mark’s father, Jerry Romig, was initiated into the Fraternity as an honorary member during the 53rd Biennial Conclave in New Orleans. While Mark was nearing the end of an extremely successful tenure as Grand Prytanis, it was a special moment that he was able to share with his father.
“He knew a lot about the Fraternity. Throughout college, we had many events take place at our home. My parents were definitely used to the Tekes so I asked him if he would like to be a Teke. His response was priceless: ‘I thought I was already.’”
Mark describes that Conclave as kind of a blur, but he can’t be blamed for it. Just weeks after Tau Kappa Epsilon packed its bags and left the city, Hurricane Katrina destroyed his hometown.
Mark and his current partner of 26 years, David Briggs, were forced to leave New Orleans and head to Baton Rouge where David’s sister had a place for Mark and his family to stay. In that moment of despair, Frater Romig and his family found a glimmer of happiness in the kindness of others.
“Something happened that really underscored the power of the Fraternity. The ladies at the Offices of the Grand Chapter sent a gift package to my mother and sisters in Baton Rouge. I don’t know how they knew where we were staying, but the love that was shown by the Fraternity was absolutely wonderful.”
Like all great cities, New Orleans has recovered, and no one is more excited to share the news than Frater Mark Romig. As the president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, Mark has been bestowed the honor of spreading word that the city is stronger than ever because of its unwavering endurance.
In 2018, the city will celebrate and commemorate its tricentennial. “New Orleans has a great story of resilience, and I’m ex- cited to share that with future generations.”
As for the future, Mark isn’t looking to slow down. Instead, he wants to continue serving his city and his Fraternity. “I’m looking to continue helping Tau Kappa Epsilon in any form or fashion. I also want to continue being a good brother, son, friend and partner.”
As Mark has accomplished a great number of feats and looks forward to continuing his impact, he credits a great amount of his success to his partner, David Briggs. “David being my partner for the last 26 years is an important part of my life, and I would not be where I am today without his support.”
Frater Romig continues to share that his story is his. “I am who I am. I have green eyes and I’m 5’6” on a good day.” But to Tau Kappa Epsilon and the thousands of New Orleans residents, Mark Romig is so much more than a simple title or description. He is the personification of the city in which he resides. Just like his city, he is distinct and far more resilient than his stature lets on. He is the embodiment of the core of NOLA.
He was raised in hub of the city, and as a result, the city has always been in his heart. From the University of New Orleans to Bourbon Street and everything in between, Mark Romig knows just what NOLA has to offer. And while Tau Kappa Epsilon prepares for a return to New Orleans this summer, Past Grand Prytanis Mark Romig will be waiting for the Fraternity’s shade of cherry and gray to cover the city of purple and gold, his city and his home at the heart of New Orleans.