MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Wallace E. Johnson, who in the early 1950s teamed with Kemmons Wilson to start the Holiday Inn hotel chain, died of a heart attack at a hospital here Wednesday. He was 86.
Johnson was a home builder with a successful construction company when the first of the then-Holiday Inns Hotel Courts were built in 1953.
Four were built, one for each approach to Memphis.
Holiday Corp., the world's largest hotel company, now has more than 1,800 franchised or owned hotels worldwide.
"The greatest man I ever knew died today. He was the greatest partner a man could ever have," Wilson said.
Wilson, 75, said that Johnson had been in reasonably good health recently and that the heart attack was a surprise.
Wilson said he was in charge of production while Johnson was the finance man. Wilson had also been a home builder.
"He was absolutely the key," Wilson said. "He was the man who helped me raise all the money. He had good common sense, no background in banking."
Johnson retired from Holiday in 1976.