People We Love
by Maré Brennan
For about a year, the BayouLife staff has diligently and thoughtfully been “keeping score” on the people in Northeast Louisiana’s service industries who bring joy with each encounter. We hope that you, too, will agree with our 2014 People We Love picks! Whether we are on a coffee run or at a charity event, there are a handful of people that make our day every single time we see their smiling faces. BayouLife went behind the counter, so to speak, to get to know more about these fascinating people whose inner light shines so brightly. Overwhelmingly, their managers are not surprised by our requests for interview as they often receive letters from customers outlining the specific good deeds and kind words that are part of the everyday fabric these “caregivers” weave. So to these working warriors who spread happiness and impart words of wisdom and peace, we salute you.
Phyllis Rambo Gordon
Brookshire’s, Licensed Florist Manager
Phyllis Rambo Gordon has been working her magic with flowers and winning the hearts of customers since 1978, when she first went to work for Elaine Caldwell in Twin City Mall’s Elaine’s Plants and Flowers, located next to the Tonga Island. With Brookshire’s over the past 15 years, Phyllis is north Monroe’s go-to-gal for a quick floral fix! Her coolers are well-stocked with pre-made bouquets (to get you out of the doghouse), and nicely presented houseplants (for new neighbors or sick friends). And Phyllis can whip up a boutonniere in a land-speed record (for when you’ve forgotten to get one for your teenager’s date to Prom. Trust me; I’ve been there). But the best part about interacting with Phyllis is her never ending ability to ask the right questions and happily get you from Point A (what kind of flowers should I get for this dinner party?) to Point B (the perfect bouquet!) to Point C (checking out in with a huge smile on your face knowing you are about to make someone really happy).
I tell Phyllis that it’s not a party unless she and her best friend Sylvia Masur Thompson are there, and everyone would agree. These two ladies are ambassadors for all things positive, hitting the town for literally every art gallery show, ballet and theatre performance and charity event.
On Her Positive Outlook: “That’s just who I am, and it’s part of the job to be helpful and courteous to customers.”
The Favorite Part of Her Job: Says Phyllis, “Meeting the needs of my customers has got to be the best part of my job. But to do that, you have to take time to get to know your customers and find out what they need.”
Ideal Valentines’ Day Gift: Brookshire’s on 18th Street in Monroe is known for its giant parking lot tent sale on Valentine’s Day, and Phyllis says it’s always a whirlwind of a day. “We’ll work 20 hour days to make sure everyone gets the perfect gift for their loved one. So my favorite Valentine’s Day gift is a spa day for when Valentine’s is over,” laughs Phyllis. “My daughter gave me one last year. It felt so good after working so hard on Valentine’s Day to get my feet and hands rubbed. Then we had dinner together.”
Most Overused Phrase: “‘Can I help you?’ I must say that at least 100 times a day!” grins Phyllis.
How She’d Like to Be Remembered: When Phyllis’ daughter Christina Elahi was a teen, she wrote a story about her mom. “She said that I am funny and that I can always find the humor in the situation,” says Phyllis with an impish grin. “My devoted husband, James, thinks I’m so talented and that I never come home on time. We worked together at the Super K-Mart years ago, so he knew what he was getting.” But she turns serious when she says that she will do anything to help churches with their flowers within her power as she tries to give back for the many blessings God has bestowed on her.
Family: Although her family can trace its roots back 200 years in Grant Parish, Phyllis was raised in Jacksonville, Florida. “I came to Monroe when I divorced my first husband,” she grins. “‘Cause my daddy wanted me to marry a Louisiana man!” She has two children, daughter Christina, who works for Judge Sharp, and son Robert Easley, an insurance adjuster in Dallas. Shelby and Jarratt Rambo make her smile as do her beloved, four-legged granddogs, Chester and Teddy.
Trio’s and Private Estate Sales
With 29 years in the service industry, it is no wonder that Bruce McKoin is so highly regarded by his loyal clientele. While he was still in college, Bruce and his good buddy, Brad Holloway, opened the highly successful and legendary Sixth Street Bar and Grille. It was his first job. “We went through a lot to even get it open. Luckily as a Delta Sig at Northeast, we had a built-in customer base from the get-go,” he says of the groundbreaking location that integrated live music into Monroe’s Garden District. Originally from Oak Grove, Bruce now splits his time between Monroe and New Orleans. “I do estate sales and that usually dictates when I am here [at Trio’s in Monroe].” On this day, Bruce and his signature blond hair are zipping behind the Trio’s bar, seeing to every customer’s need–filling a tea glass here, creating a bourbon drink in a flash and bringing out plates loaded with a delicious foods cooked to order.
On His Positive Outlook: “I don’t know any other way. When the unexpected happens, I try to remember that problem isn’t going to last forever and to move on. There are always at least two sides to everything. You have to just smile on the outside and then handle the situation behind the scenes,” says Bruce of his time managing Trio’s bar and restaurant. “In Monroe, you get to know your customers. I can almost read their minds.” Doesn’t it make you feel loved and appreciated when your server comes out with your favorite beverage–before you even order it? That’s why people love Bruce; he has that uncanny ability to anticipate your needs and fill them, like a clairvoyant with a crystal ball.
The Favorite Part of His Job(s): “There is nothing that goes on in this business that can’t be corrected,” explains Bruce. “Plus I have been bless with some of the best friends anyone in the world could have. I’ve been fortunate, and I’ve reciprocated.”
Ideal Valentines’ Day Gift: “I haven’t always been big on Valentine’s Day for myself, because for me it was about making other peoples’ day special. But the best gift I gave was to my mom. She didn’t expect anything and I brought her a dozen roses.
Most Overused Phrase: “Are you kidding me?” or “Hee-Haw!” are classic Bruce phrases that friends like Ann Burgoyne will remember.
How He’d Like to Be Remembered: “When you reach a certain age,” says Bruce, “you realize that the quality of friendships mean more than ever…Monroe is good. No, Monroe is great. I’ve been lucky that I fit in with a lot of different groups, which is not always easy to do. I always say, ‘I might not be your best friend, but I can be the best friend you’ve got.’”
Walter Houston Ledent
Vee’s Flowers deliveryman, private bartender and chauffeur
Like Monroe’s own Cher or Madonna, merely mention the name, “Walter” and anyone who’s been to a wedding or charity event in northeast Louisiana or has had the privilege of being on the receiving end of a bouquet from Vee’s Flowers knows exactly the Walter you are talking about. Says Walter shyly, “I didn’t realize how many people know me.” But being a service industry veteran for over 30 years at establishments, like The Pillars, Bayou DeSiard Country Club, The Chateau, Holidome and Vee’s Flowers, has made Ledent one of the most recognized men in Monroe. Walter’s first job was at the legendary Chateau, working alongside his dad, Houston Ledent, who was one of the head chefs. “I would cut potatoes for my dad. That’s how I learned how to work,” says the impeccably dressed Walter. He’s ready for his slate of deliveries on a blustery January day, beautiful arrangements of lilies and tulips in hand and on a course to brighten someone’s afternoon. Born and raised in Monroe, he only spent a few years out of the area, working in Dallas with his father at the Fairmont Hotel.
On His Positive Outlook: “I was just raised to be positive and just be myself. I miss my father. He told me to just keep on doing what I’m doing and get blessed. My positive attitude definitely comes from my dad. Daddy was very positive, and he did for everybody. He was my biggest role model. I tend not to think about myself that much. All that comes from my upbringing.”
The Favorite Part of His Job(s): Walter loves tending bar at wedding receptions and dinner parties, but he can often be seen chauffeuring clients around town or delivering flowers. “I have to keep moving or else I’ll get bored. I have a need to keep working. I love it when people are happy to see me,” he says.
Ideal Valentines’ Day Gift: “I gave my wife a basket filled with all the things she likes! She loved it!”
Most Overused Phrase: When he’s tending bar, you’ll hear Walter say, “Do you want ‘The Special?’”
How He’d Like to Be Remembered: “For being good to people and taking care of them. That I put a smile on their face and a drink in their hand.”
Family: Walter has been married to Shirley for 20 years and has two daughters who served in the U.S. Air Force.
Annette “Ms. Anne” Young
Sometimes just hearing this person we love’s voice is enough to snap us out of a bad day! And we’re sure that others feel exactly the same way. If you’ve ever driven through Starbucks then you know exactly who we’re talking about. Ms. Anne has been at Monroe’s Starbucks on Forsythe Avenue since its opening in 2008, belting out her signature, “Hey, Baby! What can I get for you this morning?” along with some words of wisdom and peace for the day ahead. It’s hard to imagine Ms. Anne doing anything that didn’t require much human interaction, but for years she worked in hotel housekeeping, working crazy hours. Lucky for us, a Starbucks manager recognized a good thing when he saw her and hired Annette for the Forsythe location.
Petite and youthful, Ms. Anne has four daughters, one son and eleven grandkids with one on the way. I ask her secret to staying young. She laughs and says, “Oil of Olay and staying busy to keep fit.” She has just gotten out of church to meet me at Starbucks and talk about what motivates her to be so positive.
On Her Positive Outlook: “This world is so cruel, and it’s nice to show someone a smile on your face and give one to somebody else.”
The Favorite Part of Her Job: The best part of her job at Starbucks she says with no hesitation is greeting people. “I love to talk and listen to people. And I love to joke around and try to make people happy. One day, this lady came through the drive-through, and she looked so sad and had tears in her eyes. I just reached out to hold her hand and told her, ‘Ain’t nothing but the devil when you are having a bad day. Just shake that off.’”
Ideal Valentines’ Day Gift: The best Valentine’s Day gift she’s received came from her daughters. “My girls pulled together a big basket with all of the Oil of Olay products that I love, a pair of pajamas and topped it off with my favorite chocolates. The favorite Valentine’s gift I ever gave, though, was to my mom — an outfit, with a pair of shoes to match, a dozen roses and a card with $50 that was completely unexpected.”
Most Overused Phrase: “Good Morning! Welcome to Starbucks! What can I get you?” Ms. Anne laughs and says she dreams about it in her sleep and has even answered her own phone with the phrase.
How She’d Like to Be Remembered: “I’d like to be remembered as a peacemaker,” says Annette, whose time at church is precious to her. “I have an overwhelming love for people, to help people or lend an ear. There is nothing within my reach that I wouldn’t do for someone.”