By Greg Johnson
If you’re in the hospitality business, it helps if you’re naturally hospitable. Jill Justice, who was named President of The Greenbrier on September 1, 2016, seems born for the job. She is gracious and welcoming, and she manages to convey genuine interest in the resort’s guests and in team members who work with her to create the historic property’s spectacular ambience. Her kindness and concern shine through.
A family physician, Dr. Justice practices medicine 2½ days a week at Greenbrier Care, an outpatient clinic on the resort grounds that serves hotel staff and members of the local community. She readily admits that she’s more comfortable in the role of doctor than hotelier, but she’s rapidly growing into the job. “I call myself the President-in-Training,” she says with a smile. She points out that with her family’s purchase of the property in 2009 she feels a responsibility to help shape the resort’s future.
When she’s not attending hotel-management meetings, making the rounds of various departments, and conferring with staff members, she’s seeing patients. It may seem like a lot for a recently married 32-year-old, but she takes it in stride.
A Beckley native, Jill moved to the Greenbrier Valley when she was in the 10th grade. As long as she can remember, sports have played a major role in her family life, and she played basketball, volleyball, and tennis at Greenbrier East. With the hotel’s annual Greenbrier Classic, she has added golf to the sports she follows, admitting that meeting the players piqued her interest. She has a golf app on her phone, and she keeps up with the results of PGA tournament play.
She decided in high school that she wanted to pursue medicine. She credits her biology and anatomy teacher, Dr. Bruce Rose, a former veterinarian, with nurturing her interest. She was awarded a basketball scholarship to Clemson University, but after a year at the South Carolina school she wanted to be closer to home. She transferred to Marshall University, where she played basketball and majored in Dietetics, which she saw as a way to pick up the science requirements she needed for admission to medical school.
With her 2012 graduation from the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, she became Dr. Jillean Justice. Following her residency at Lewis Gale Hospital Montgomery she returned to the Greenbrier Valley to practice medicine. An enthusiastic ambassador for the area, she waxes eloquent about the quality of the people in the valley and says she can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Her September 2015 wedding to lawyer Adam Long was the “test run” for the resort’s new, strikingly beautiful 500-seat chapel, with stained glass windows by Carleton Varney. Now one of her many concerns is growing the wedding business at the hotel and making sure others have the same kind of perfect wedding day.
Jill and Adam reside on a farm just outside Lewisburg. They’re outdoorsy and laid back, and they enjoy fishing and being with friends. Jill confesses that one of her favorite activities is turkey hunting with her father, Governor Jim Justice. She’s been hunting since she was 10. She describes early morning outings in Monroe County that are so crack-of-dawn that she’s back at work at the hotel by 8 a.m.
To say Dr. Justice has a full plate is an understatement. Despite her hectic schedule, she took the time to sit down with us and talk about The Greenbrier and a few other topics.
GVQ: You lightheartedly call yourself The Greenbrier’s President-in-Training. Who’s training you?
Justice: I’ve learned a lot by working with and watching my family over the years. As for The Greenbrier in particular, I feel the main source of training comes from the people who have worked there for so many years and have a wealth of knowledge. I work very closely with our Chief Operating Officer at The Greenbrier, Elmer Coppoolse. Elmer joined us when we purchased Glade Springs and has over 30 years in the hospitality business, which is an invaluable asset.
GVQ: The Greenbrier has been on an impressive run since your family took over. You’ve added the casino, the chapel, the sports-performance center, the tennis stadium, the Greenbrier Classic, new restaurants. You’re developing Oakhurst, and you’re even talking about having skiing. But one thing we don’t hear much about is the Greenbrier Medical Institute. Is that still in the mix?
Justice: The Greenbrier Medical Institute is definitely part of the long-range plan, but it’s evolving. Originally we thought it would have an orthopedic focus, but we’re talking with the WVU Hospitals about teaming up with them and having a broader focus. As a family doctor I’m also very interested getting a preventative health program going for our staff. We’re clearing out a warehouse now so we can create an employee gym. It’s all a work-in-progress.
GVQ: How is your wedding business doing?
Justice: It’s growing. Along with the local markets we are trying to tap into larger markets such as Charlotte, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Once people arrive on the property they fall in love with the natural surroundings and such beautiful venues.
GVQ: What’s the hotel’s biggest challenge going forward?
Justice: We have a lot of longtime employees who are going to be retiring, and we need to recruit younger people to work with us, so the more experienced ones can take them under their wings and train them. We’ve teamed up with local high schools to encourage students to pursue some of the occupations we need – culinary workers and skilled trades like electricians and plumbers. The students come over in the afternoons and shadow our employees. We’re trying to help build those programs. The beauty of The Greenbrier has always been its employees, and we want to continue this tradition as we move into the future.
GVQ: I’m sure your involvement with the 2016 flood was an experience you’ll never forget.
Justice: It was an emotional, tough time for everyone. I was at the hotel all day and night. We didn’t know the extent of the flooding initially, but as the evening approached we quickly realized how serious and awful things were. The flood was terrible and left scars that will remain forever, but the whole community came together, and the recovery has been an amazing effort.
GVQ: Did it surprise you when your father decided to run for governor?
Justice: Not really. He’d mentioned it over the years, so I knew it was in the back of his mind. You’re never completely shocked with Dad – I learned that at a young age. You kind of have to roll with it. I didn’t even know he was buying The Greenbrier until the day it happened. I don’t know if everyone could adapt to that kind of spontaneity, but that’s the way I grew up. You learn to go with the flow.
GVQ: Your father’s influences are obvious. Tell us about your mother.
Justice: Mom is my best friend, and I try to learn from her every day. She is such a kind and intelligent person. I run things by her all the time. She is the kindest, sweetest person. I hope that if there’s one thing I can take from her it would be to treat everyone with the same genuine kindness.
GVQ: Your mother is known as a good cook, and you grew up eating well. Do you have a favorite restaurant or dish at The Greenbrier?
Justice: Of course I love Mom’s cornbread in Prime 44. I also like the peach tea chicken and the corn pudding at Prime 44. I love In-fusion (the Asian restaurant in the casino) – the entire menu is great. But my favorite restaurant at the hotel is probably Sam Snead’s at the Golf Club. The food and the atmosphere are great.
GVQ: What do you like to eat at home?
Justice: I LOVE fresh veggies from the garden. Nothing beats a tomato/mayo sandwich in my book.
GVQ: When you talk about the Greenbrier Valley, you’re really enthusiastic. What is it about this area that you love so much?
Justice: There’s just no place else like the Greenbrier Valley. The people draw you in, and it gets you invested in the area. I forget that I grew up in Beckley. I feel like I grew up here. There’s just something special about the people. This will always be home.