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BAHNA--Ralph M. 71, of Stamford, CT passed away peacefully surrounded by family on February 24, 2014. A global leader and entrepreneur in the travel industry, Ralph launched major innovations and businesses in hotels, ocean cruising and airline travel. He was the founder of the Club Quarters hotel chain; original investor and Chairman of Priceline.com; Chairman of Cunard Lines, Ltd.; and senior executive of Trans World Airlines. In both his business and private life, Ralph combined integrity and modesty with constant drive and passionate commitment to public service and the public good. Soft-spoken, with a gentle manner and an unfailingly cheerful sense of humor, Ralph commanded attention, respect and loyalty through the clarity, forcefulness and originality of his thinking and leadership. His business philosophy emphasized "problem definition," which he said must always precede successful problem solutions. Born 1942 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ralph received a BA from the University of Michigan '64, and MBA from UC Berkeley '66. At TWA he invented the idea of business class service ("Ambassador Service"), as well as curbside check-in. Credited with turning around the troubled airline, The New York Times acclaimed him a "marketing genius" while still in his twenties. At age 30, Ralph became the president of Cunard Lines. There he reinvented luxury cruise travel in the age of airline competition. He recast the company's flagship, the QE2, as a vacation destination by itself with the first-ever spas and computer centers on an ocean liner. Instead of competing with airlines, he partnered with them to offer Atlantic crossings via sea for one leg of the voyage and via supersonic Concorde flights for the return. Cunard became the world's largest buyer of supersonic airline seats. Cunard made luxury cruises accessible to middle-class consumers, quadrupling sales. Ralph became the first U.S.-born Chairman and CEO of Cunard Lines from 1980 to 1989. In 1990 Travel Trade Magazine named him "Cruise Industry Leader of the Decade". In the '90s Ralph created Club Quarters, a global chain of full service hotels for business travelers in major city centers. Club Quarters serves many Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies as members of this private organization. The chain's prime city-center locations include Rockefeller Center and the World Trade Center in NYC; Chicago River at Michigan Ave.; Embarcadero Center in San Francisco; Washington, DC (one block from the White House); and Trafalgar Square, London. Ralph was a pre-IPO investor in Priceline, the revolutionary, name-your-own-price web platform. He helped lead Priceline from its 1998 launch to an historic $1 billion in sales in 18 months. A board member, he became non-executive Chairman from 2004 until 2013. During his tenure, Priceline expanded worldwide, joined the S&P 500 and became the #1 S&P 500 growth stock for a decade, rising from $24 to $1,200 per share. Deeply committed to public health, Ralph supported Columbia NY Presbyterian's atrial fibrillation research and served on its heart steering committee. He helped create the Center for Integrative Medicine & Wellness at Stamford Hospital. A passionate promoter of innovation, Ralph invested in TEDMED, the global conference for health and medicine run by his longtime friend, priceline.com founder Jay Walker. Ralph strongly supported education. At UC Berkeley, he helped develop the "Innovative Leader" curriculum of the Haas School of Business. Active in the Young Presidents' Organization and World President's Organization, he and his wife Dorothy co-chaired YPO's "University for Presidents" in 1990 on the QE2. A proud member of Sigma Chi at U-M, Ralph was a Hall of Fame wrestler and Big 10 champion with the U-M Wolverines. He remained a lifelong fitness enthusiast and, with Dorothy, generously supported U-M's wrestling program. Active in NYC civic affairs, Ralph chaired fundraisers for the Central Park Conservancy and served on the board of The Metropolitan Club. He was especially proud of receiving the 2009 Ellis Island Medal of Honor, honoring contributions by immigrants, their children and grandchildren to American life. Ralph was deeply involved in global affairs and spoke often with elected officials about U.S. competitiveness and fiscal policy. Ralph always regarded his family as the source of his greatest joy. He married the former Dorothy Ballard in 1967. They had three children, whose births he described as the happiest moments of his life. He is survived by Dorothy; daughter Laura Lovejoy and son-in-law Bill; daughter Deborah Chrabolowski and son-in-law John; and son Adam Bahna and daughter-in-law Amy; along with grandchildren Jackson, Cole, Tyler, Mason, Ella, Emery, Zachary, and Cassidy; and his sister Joanne Deeb. Ralph's style, humility, deep thoughtfulness and friendly compassion will be missed by all the thousands of friends and associates who knew him worldwide. Visitation will be at the Hoyt Funeral Home in New Canaan, CT, Monday, March 3rd, 4-9pm. Funeral services are at St. Cecelia's Church in Stamford, CT on March 4th at 10am. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to The Bahna Fund for Electrophysiology at NY Presbyterian Hospital.

Funeral Home
Hoyt Funeral Home
199 Main St
New Canaan, CT 06840
(203) 966-0700
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Published in The New York Times on Feb. 28, 2014