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Tim Martin, a staff member at the Tennessee Aquarium retrieves Cara DeLoach's phone from a stormwater drain.

Tourism spending in Chattanooga — $1.1 billion — is a big number with a big economic impact. What helps make that happen is even more impressive.

I am referring to just how impressive Tennessee Aquarium employee Tim Martin is, and how his response to my daughter's mishap illustrates the hospitality that makes Chattanooga the tourism giant that it is. Over the Christmas holiday this past year, my daughter, Cara DeLoach, visited Chattanooga from Fayetteville, North Carolina, where she lives and works as a professor at a local community college.

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Cara DeLoach, a visitor to Chattanooga, with Tim Martin, a staff member at the Tennessee Aquarium who retrieved her phone from a stormwater drain.

We took many trips around town with Cara; her brother, Joey, who is a UTC student; and her other brother, Adam, who was visiting from San Angelo, Texas, with his girlfriend, Jacquelyn (he asked her to marry him on the Walnut Street Bridge during the visit, by the way).

One day it was all about taking the gang to see the attractions in downtown Chattanooga, including our impressive aquarium.

On this particular downtown-trip day, Dec. 30, we jumped into the van and headed out of Soddy-Daisy. It was a cold day, in the 30s as I pulled up in front of the aquarium to let everyone out of the van. Cara was sitting in the seat next to the side door. Upon opening the door, she stepped out of the car. Her cellphone went flying off her lap and headed for the pavement below with a solid bounce, and, yep, right to the bottom of a 4-foot-deep manhole. There wasn't much hope for retrieving that phone, until Cara proceeded into the aquarium's River Journey to ask for help. That is where Tim Martin comes in.

Upon overhearing Cara's story, Tim offered to help. Little did Tim realize at the time just how intense an effort this would prove to be. For something like four or five hours it seemed, Tim worked numerous strategies, making many trips back into the aquarium to retrieve another gadget to try again to recover that cell phone. This went on and on. At one point, he went to his personal vehicle to retrieve the good stuff, yep, duct tape, with which he proceeded to tape together several gadgets in his effort to help this out-of-state visitor. Tim stayed glued to the pavement, face down against the manhole grate for hours — no joke — because he was determined to retrieve that phone.

To our shock, his determination paid off: He retrieved the phone. We were all amazed. Tim encouraged us from the beginning to go and enjoy touring the aquarium while he worked on the phone. While my daughter stayed with him the entire time, the rest of us toured the aquarium and walked out on the pedestrian bridge, where our son Adam asked his girlfriend Jacquelyn to marry him.

Over the past five months since Christmas break, this story has been told many times in Chattanooga, Fayetteville and Texas. My family was so impressed with what we experienced at the aquarium that we have spread the good news of Chattanooga to many people.

This young man Tim Martin is impressive — and Chattanooga is fortunate to have him representing us to our tourists! This type of over-the-top hospitality brings out-of-town guests back. It is also what helps to encourage visitors to spread the good word and encourage their friends and neighbors to make a trip to visit our city.

According to what Barry White, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, told me, we know visitors to Hamilton County generate more than $1.1 billion in economic impact. Wow! Thank you, Tim, for what you do for us — for impacting our visitors in a way that will have them coming back time and time again.

This time of year is when we really kick off the family vacation season in our country — Memorial Day weekend — so please be alert to helping make our out-of-town visitors feel really good about making a trip to visit Chattanooga, using Tim's actions as an example for all of us.

Thank you, Tim Martin!

Jeff DeLoach is the president of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach him at jdeloach@timesfreepress.com.

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