Jack Brantley has enjoyed a very interesting life and career.
The world class caterer with the courtly manners and soft-spoken demeanor has worked with his share of high profile clients, including several Miss Americas and a U.S. President. But to Brantley, probably his most memorable client was Columbia banker, businessman and long-time Augusta National Golf Club Chairman William Woodward “Hootie” Johnson and his most memorable job, The Masters golf tournament.
If that sounds like an exclusive gig, it is. In fact, Brantley is the only caterer to ever be invited to cater an event at The Masters for the members of Augusta National.
“It’s really one of those things that you dream of doing but wonder how in the world would you be able to do it,” he said. “Then it happens, and you think, ‘how in the hell did I get in here?’”
Nonetheless, it happened and Brantley is obviously grateful for the opportunity -- he and Aberdeen Catery would cater this party for the members of Augusta National at The Masters for the eight years Johnson was Chairman of Augusta National – but most of all, Brantley is thankful to have been able to count Johnson as a friend, he said.
“He was just a gentleman, a prince of a fellow, a fine person,” Brantley said. “He was so kind and caring – he was genuinely interested in everyone and really spent a lifetime doing so many wonderful things for so many people.”
Brantley said he first got to know Johnson through business functions -- Brantley enjoyed a successful banking career prior to going into catering -- so when he started Aberdeen, he was able to cater several functions for Johnson. Those opportunities led to other jobs and high profile clients throughout the region.
Johnson became chairman of Augusta National, and The Masters, in 1998. Apparently, it wasn’t long before he decided he needed a top-flight caterer to put on an affair worthy of the circumstances and he reached out to Brantley, who enthusiastically accepted.
“He asked if we could be there at a certain time and place,” Brantley said. “I told him we could be there in the next hour or so, if he said so … This is one of those things you sort of dream about doing but never really expect to happen, so it was a real honor, privilege and thrill. We worked hard and did the best we could -- but the thing is, I never thought of it as work. I thought of it as being part of this fabulous party no one ever gets invited to and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it.”
Johnson and his fellow Augusta National members apparently loved whatever Aberdeen did; Johnson asked for the same menu and set up every year. The caterers would set up tables with vintage china and silverware under the enormous, iconic live oak tree that graces the lawn of Augusta National. The menu featured beef tenderloin, fresh shrimp and oysters from the docks of Savannah, quail and grits, cheese biscuits and for dessert a strawberry tree with pineapple and chocolate.
“Everyone was always so nice and so complimentary -- everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves,” Brantley said.
Brantley said he and his crew were always very busy.Therefore, they didn’t get a chance to interact much with guests. On the other hand, the event was so exclusive, Brantley said he didn’t remember seeing anyone other than green jacketed Augusta National members and their guests -- no random celebrity sightings, no hangers on, not even many of the golfers participating in the tournament.
Brantley and the Johnson family have continued their friendship over the years. Indeed, when Johnson became ill, Brantley would periodically drop by the home to visit and bring food from the catery. The day of the funeral, Brantley put together a luncheon for the family prior to the service.
“He was a wonderful man and they are a wonderful family and I was pleased and blessed to have been able to do something for them,” Brantley said.