His strong arms were oustretched and his wide smile was a beacon of love and acceptance. In the spring of 2005, my wife and I strolled toward my brother Windsor Jordan and his family to join them in celebrating the university graduation of their handsome twin sons. We took our seats with the family and shared in their pride of reaching this special milestone. As their sons received their diplomas I could also feel the pride of their grandmother, Mary Jordan, whom I had first met in 1988.
In 1988 a small group of special event management professionals decided to form a professional association for the purpose of promoting education and credentialing in this fast growing field of business. I was elected as the founding president of the International Special Events Society, ISES (now known as the International Live Events Association, ILEA) and was tasked with finding a local caterer in Atlanta, Georgia to host the board of governors for our inaugural dinner.
A couple of years earlier I had met Windsor Jordan at another association meeting entitled the National Association of Catering Executives and discovered that his mother had started a small catering business in the basement of her home and that when Windsor returned from his US military service he joined her in the business. He told me it was all he ever wanted to do.
During one of my visits to Atlanta, Windsor invited me to meet his mother and Mary Jordan welcomed me into her home as though I was a long lost cousin. It was that evening that as an educator I realised that whilst you may teach hospitality skills, the art of hospitality is something that is very rare and found within the soul of those selfless, caring and compassionate people such as Mary and her son Windsor.
During our visit she told me about the growth of her business from a small basement operation to a large commercial kitchen employing dozens of people and serving thousands of guests each year and eventually becoming the largest African American catering firm in Atlanta. I asked Mary how she had managed this success while raising her sons Vernon and Windsor and she modestly said “I needed to support us.”
I also invited Mary and Windsor to join the then fledgling organisation known as ISES and she readily agreed. She said that she was a joiner and would also like to help us in the future.
When it was time to select a caterer and location for the first ISES board dinner in Atlanta, I immediately thought of Mary Jordan Catering and asked if I could come to her office and meet with her.
Once again she welcomed me into her small office that was immaculately set with a formal tea service served upon fine china with sterling silverware and accompanied by perfectly made sandwiches and cookies.
I explained to Mary that all of the people on the board were leaders in their field and had produced major events such as the US National Football League Super Bowl, the Academy Awards and other prominent functions and therefore they had very high expectations for the events they attended as guests. She smiled and said in her soft voice “Well, they will all be most welcome here.”
I then told her that as a new organisation we did not have much money and wondered what her fee would be to cater our event. However, I also told her that by catering our event she would be promoting her business to some of the most prestigious firms in the special events industry and therefore hoped she might offer us a small concession.
She lowered her head, furrowed her brow and said “Joe, when I opened my business in this location, some fancy society ladies from Buckhead came to see me and they also said that they would like to bring me some prestigious customers. They asked me to provide all my catering and service for free! I politely told them that I am in this for the money, honey!”
We both laughed out loud and then she said “Do not worry about the cost, you will be able to afford it.”
When we arrived that evening we were led directly into her large kitchen where on the giant butcher block carving table in the centre of the room a giant hamhock was displayed. Upon the top of the hamhock bone was carefully positioned a Jewish skull cap known as a yarmulke. Next to the yarmulke was a small sign that read “Welcome to My Jewish Son and Special Guests!” As the new President of ISES was indeed Jewish and traditionally observant Jews are not supposed to eat pork this immediately caused much laughter among the guests. Fortunately, I was not traditional nor observant and therefore enjoyed every single bite of the succulent hamhock.
During the past fifty years in the special events industry I have had the privilege of dining in palaces, castles, stately homes, the US White House and other prestigious venues. However, none will ever be as memorable as the evening that I and my fifteen friends spent in the company of Mary and Windsor Jordan in their warm kitchen kitchen that was filled with the aromas of traditional souther hospitality.
Throughout the evening we consumed ample portions (everyone had second and some had third portions) of fried chicken, collard greens, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and hot bubbling apple cobbler with home made vanilla ice cream. We told stories about our careers and listened to Mary explain how she was growing her business that would eventually serve US Presidents, Governors, corporate leaders and many more people who appreciated her rare talent for southern hospitality.
When it was finally time to leave, I proposed a toast to Mary, Windsor and Mary Jordan Catering Service and then Mary and Windsor stood at the front door and hugged each guest as they made their way home.
The next morning I called Mary to ask about the bill and she said in her business like voice “Didn’t you see my note on the yarmulke? You are my Jewish son and I do not charge my children or their friends for dinner. Good luck with ISES.”
I was speechless.
Sadly, I discovered this week that my friend and brother Windsor Jordan, died in 2018. His beloved mother Mary passed away twenty – five years earlier. According to Windsor’s obituary he once asked his mother about the future of social and racial integration.
“My mama said social and racial integration would never happen. She always said that. She felt social integration wasn’t really what it was about.”
“She said it was about business.”
That afternoon in Pennsylvania when Windsor introduced me to his wife and sons he placed his strong arm around my shoulder and said proudly “This is Joe. He is my Jewish brother.”
I hope with all my heart that Mary’s philosophy of getting down to business when it comes to human relations will finally see greater progress in my lifetime. I also hope that my sons and grandsons may one day have the privilege I have had of having an African American brother who unconditionally loved me as I loved and respected him, his mother and family.
After all, Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns reminded us in 1795 that “That Man to Man, the world o’er, Shall brothers be for all that.” Windsor Jordan knew this better than most and his legacy along with his mother will be one that is remembered and celebrated because of their boundless capacity to get down to the business of promoting love and kindness for all humankind.