Essie Blakely serves as Emory's own Emily Post

When friends and colleagues describe Essie Blakely's catering work in Campus Dining, one word invariably comes up: gracious.

A catering supervisor/attendant in Campus Dining, Blakely joined Emory's food service team 30 years ago. After James T. Laney become president of the University in 1977, Laney's wife Berta began specifically requesting that Blakely be assigned to receptions and other special events held at Lullwater. That tradition has continued into the presidency of Bill Chace, whose wife JoAn also asks Blakely to work selected events at Lullwater, to ensure that everything goes off well.

A graceful, elegant presence

"Essie is a glamorous figure for me," said Mrs. Chace. "She has a graceful and elegant presence; I am always surprised to find that she is doing the dishes or setting the table instead of, say, singing softly with an orchestra backing her. But I don't know that she would approve of my image of her, because she is a preacher's kid and very serious and hard-working. Although she grew up in the country, she is a regular Emily Post. She always knows what should be done and how it should be done; she knows all about glasses and china and silver and service plates and always sees that her tables are perfect. Her combination of plain strength (catering is heavy work, and the hours are long), high standards and good taste makes her a remarkable person and a wonderful contributor to Emory."

Mrs. Chace also cited Blakely's husband as a hero. "Essie comes to work around 5 o'clock in the morning, and he drives her here every day, although his own work day begins at 9 a.m.," Mrs. Chace said. "They are an extraordinary couple."

Berta Laney also expressed appreciation for Blakely's charm and expertise. "Essie Blakely was my right hand during the years we were in Lullwater," Mrs. Laney said. "She knew exactly what to do, how to do it, and brought a warmth and professionalism to every task. She became my good friend."

"Essie is one of the best," said Helen Jenkins, Emory's food service liaison in Campus Life, of Blakely's catering prowess. "She does a great job. Her primary responsibility is with the VIPs at the smaller occasions, those that require a little more of a personal touch. And she does that so graciously."

Jenkins, who has been at Emory 50 years herself, hired Blakely 31 years ago. Back then, food service staff were hired as Emory employees. When the food service was contracted to ARA (now Aramark) in 1986, Blakely was one of about 100 food service employees who were given the choice of remaining Emory employees and working for ARA or becoming ARA employees. "Everyone chose to stay with Emory and work for ARA," Jenkins said. Blakely is one of about 25 of those original employees who still work in Campus Dining today. "Essie has given her life to this work, and people really appreciate her," Jenkins said.

Getting pinned

Blakely is famous not only for her knowledge of culinary protocol, but also for her impeccable taste in assembling what has to be one of the largest lapel pin collections on campus. "We have always admired her collection of lapel pins," said Mrs. Chace. "She had a great collection long before trading pins became a fad of the Olympic summer. We collected a Georgia Tech Olympic pin for her treasure-trove when our friend Wayne Clough took us on a tour of the Olympic Village, and Bill saved for her a special identification pin given him when President Clinton visited the campus [in 1995].

"You must find a very special pin before giving it to Essie," Mrs. Chace explained, "because her collection is large and her taste is excellent."

A native of McDonough, Ga., Blakely appreciates the effort the Chaces and some of her friends on the Board of Trustees have taken not only to add to her pin collection, but also to express their appreciation for her work. She says the president's reception for graduating seniors and their families is her favorite function, because "it's outdoors and you get to see so many different people. You see all those new faces. I enjoy doing that. And I love this job; I really do."

--Dan Treadaway

Return to the December 9, 1996 contents page