by NancyLee Honey Marsh
Photography by Anne, Inc. – Sloan Bragg
Head held high, she beamed at her great Uncle, James Sammy Gray. The former Commodore proudly presented his grand niece with the honored jacket. “It was a bitter-sweet, poignant moment, and one I’ll always remember,” declared Brandy Gray, the fourth female in 59 years to become Commodore for the historic 2014 Beaufort Water Festival, running July18-27. “My Uncle was the eldest living Commodore at the time, and sadly, he passed away that November.”
A fifth generation Beaufort resident, Brandy grew up crabbing and fishing with her family, loving every minute of life on the Intracoastal Waterway. Diverting her from meetings, conference calls, and pressures of the corporate world, I sensed as we talked, her deep affection and respect for her Beaufort roots.
After a major in Early Childhood Development, Brandy discovered it was not what she desired for her life’s work. “I loved volunteering, so I helped several non-profit organizations in their fund-raising activities,” she beamed. “It was great experience and taught me how lean a budget can be and how to work with what was available. I loved every minute of it.”
Married to Micky, with whom she has a six-year-old, Emma, Brandy is working with what she terms a “real corporation.” As Sales Manager for the Bluffton Holiday Inn Express, she finds a different kind of revenue stream. Marketing Holiday Inn’s amenities partnered with those of the Lowcountry throughout the United States is extremely demanding, so it’s understandable why Brandy earned this position. Capable of balancing many responsibilities, she possesses a convivial, sincere personality, and an affability that enfolds even strangers.
She truly shines discussing her desire from early high school days to become a “Pirette.” Immediately recognizing my puzzlement she explained, “ Piretties are the ambassadors of the Beaufort Water Festival, but it is not an easy title to gain. There is an intense interview process for the job and personality is an important aspect,” she smiled brilliantly. “Can you imagine the pressure felt as a teenager? I made it though and truly enjoyed the opportunity and responsibility of meeting so many nice people. A Pirette, makes a year long commitment to travel, promote our festival and to meet, greet and help all attendees. I hoped it would be a segway to my becoming Commodore of the Festival, something I wanted from the moment I became a Pirette!” And that it was, as Brandy was the first Pirette to obtain the honored title of Commodore for the Water Festival, created in 1956. "Each Commodore chooses a new theme for the festival each year,” she told me excitedly. “Because of a long time friendship with artist, William Rhett, we worked together to create the festival design for our official tee shirts and prints. We centered the theme around our history and heritage, depicting Beaufort as it was in the ‘50s when the festival began, contrasting it to today. My grandfather was a shrimper, so the boat in our designed prints and water color, available at William Rhett’s gallery, is an important symbol of my heritage. Sadly, three of our amazing Commodores I worked with, John Gentry, Ray Kearns and my great Uncle, Sammy Gray, passed away this year. We honored them with three red pennants shown flying from the boat, which also has another unique feature. The boat displays two names—“Peggy” in memory of my mom, lost to Cancer five years ago, and “Pickle” to honor William’s Mom.”
A very special and favorite Water Festival event for Brandy is the Dragon Boat races. It touches her heart, as it’s mentoring an important organization. “Those who row are cancer survivors, who have fought for their lives. Others row in memory of someone who died with the disease. Last year there were 22 managed boats, but this year we are proud to have 37!”
Commodore Brandy actually took a breath, “It’s remarkable to me the Festival operates on sponsor dollars alone. No grants or tax money! And, we are able to provide scholarships and help other non-profit organizations. I greatly respect the opportunity and am so honored to have served as Commodore. It’s been a perfect fit for me at this time of my life.”
Loving commitment: She spends 20-30 hours a week on Water Festival, run by 400 volunteers. Many give up their vacations. It’s been 10 years since Brandy took one.
Motivational Factor: I was always fascinated with behind-the-scenes logistics of the Festival.
Breathing Time: Time with Mickey; biking with Emma.
Melancholy moment: It’s taken 16 years of tears and learning the ropes. Commodores
make it to the top, then fade away!
In my perfect world: I would volunteer to help the less fortunate full time.