photography by Brent Cline
Being welcomed by Wade and Sissy Brodie into their elegant home on York Street in Aiken is like slipping into a Southern dream. It’s an early summer dusk and the creamy pastels of their living room seem to glow as the sun starts to tuck down, just taking the edge off the day’s sweltering heat. Glass goblets of peach iced tea garnished with fresh mint leaves and a vase of ivory hydrangeas are arranged on the mirrored coffee table.
“I don’t mess with fake; I’ve got to have real flowers!” exclaims Sissy as she sits on the love seat with Wade, who is quiet, but smiling, as his more gregarious other half strikes conversation. Fittingly, Sissy’s comment about her fresh-cut blooms could also be applied to the Brodies’ life, which they have led, and continue to lead, without affectation but with an ever-blooming, genuine love for community, people and each other. Together the Brodies have been instrumental in shaping Aiken—moving it forward—while helping to preserve its traditions through their embodiment of charm, affluence and classic hospitality.
Sissy is famous for her Aunt Sissy’s Tea Parties, a charity event she holds every four to five years—a “don’t spare the china” extravaganza for young girls to learn about the fine points of etiquette.
To say the Brodies have been involved in philanthropic and community endeavors over the past 50-plus years is an understatement. Rather, the two have been zealously integrated, serving as cornerstones during some of the town’s most defining moments, ones that ignited cultural and economic development—from downtown revitalization projects to operating Aiken’s first bed and breakfast in their home, and being among the first to introduce the concept of hosting golf and horse enthusiasts during major events.
Wade, founder of the Aiken County National Bank (sold to Carolina First in 1994), is a past president of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce and past chair of United Way and the Aiken Downtown Development board. He was also a Sunday school superintendent and deacon at First Baptist Church, and frequent volunteer for the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
“Out of all the things I’ve been involved in, the hospital has been the most gratifying,” says Wade, chairman of the Aiken Cooperation. “When I was elected to the first city council [in the early 1970s], there were only 12 doctors at the Aiken County Hospital. Aiken was growing and there was talk of a private hospital to meet those needs.”
“When you’re talking about closing a facility where I had my tonsils taken out in order to get this for-profit hospital, there’s going to be some opposition,” continues Wade. “But now we have Aiken Regional, with some 350 doctors and one of the best cardiovascular units in the area.”
The hospital is just one example of the many pivotal “go big or go home” ideas that the Brodies have helped nurture to fruition. With Wade at its helm, the Aiken Cooperation, in collaboration with the city, brought the Aiken Community Playhouse from a butler building at Odell Weeks to its shared location on Newberry Street with Washington International. And then there’s Aunt Sissy’s Tea Party, an elaborate charity event—complete with linens, parasols and wide-brimmed hats—that Sissy has orchestrated every four or five years since the mid-1970s. It has been described as a “don’t spare the china” garden extravaganza for which Sissy invites a group of young girls to her house for a real tea party and to learn about the nuances of etiquette such as responding to an RSVP, writing thank you letters and navigating a place setting.
Widely known for her unique brand of Southern hospitality and charm, Sissy is famous for her spectacular tailgate parties at the Aiken Triple Crown each year.
Sissy is also known for putting on a full Southern spread for her friends at Aiken Triple Crown events. Always supportive of his wife, Wade collaborates with Sissy in her annual mission to tailgate full throttle with impressive arrangements of punch bowls and platters. He helps with the cooking and, when called upon, will even bring their dining room table down to the track. “Passion is what life is all about,” says Sissy, a recipient of the Pickens-Salley Southern Woman of Distinction Award, given to commend her civic leadership in organizations such as the Aiken County Board of Disabilities, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.
So just why does Aiken mean so much to this couple? For starters, the Brodies are part of a small number of born and bred Aikenites and they cherish the eclectic heritage of their home soil in a way that energizes them and compels their involvement. They never moved away and came back after several years or split their time between a summer house and a winter house—they have lived at their York Street abode since 1963. “Aiken has been good to us,” says Wade.
And the dynamic social scene, with its constant influx of retirees, vacationers and visitors, perfectly suits Sissy’s desire to provide top-rate hospitality. “Sissy picks up every stray that comes into town,” smiles Wade. “I come home and I never know who I’m gonna find.”
The Brodies have been involved in philanthropic and community endeavors over the past 50-plus years, serving as cornerstones during some of the town’s most defining moments.
We really have picked up so many interesting people along the way,” beams Sissy.
“We?” Wade teases under his breath, as Sissy hurries off to retrieve a binder containing photographs of and letter correspondence from the dozens of people—from elite members of the horse racing industry to cross-country cyclists—she has invited into her home, often to spend a few nights.
“This is the book I’m going to write someday; these are the characters of my life,” says Sissy, holding the binder to her chest. She recalls one guest in particular, a French cyclist. “I have an eye for a weary cyclist,” tells Sissy, who, along with Wade, was once an avid biker and a race promoter. “You see them laden with all these saddlebags and think, ‘I bet they’re looking for a place to stay.’” She invited him in and called a friend who was fluent in French so that he could talk to the cyclist on the phone and let him know that he was “safe with Sissy.”
Photos displayed on shelves and tabletops document the many happy times and wonderful friends the couple has enjoyed.
“I fixed him a lovely dinner and took him into Wade’s cellar to pick something to go with the meal. Would you know that the bottle he randomly chose had the name of the town he was from in France printed on the label?” exclaims Sissy, amazed at how her life has been full of coincidences that seem to wink at the unique ways in which we all are connected.
One of her favorite coincidences is how she began dating Wade, who she met during high school weekend 1953 at Newberry College, where he was studying. Sissy took a bus from Aiken and was not met by the person who originally invited her. Rather, there stood Wade, who told Sissy that her friend had asked him to pick her up. “He dropped me off at the dormitory where I would be staying,” says Sissy as she rests her hand on Wade’s. “Then he said, ‘There’s a dance tonight and I’d like to take you.’ Everything went very well; he walked me back and we smooched a little under the tree—well, I guess it was the second night we kissed. What did you tell me under the tree?” She shakes Wade’s hand a little, as if trying to help jog his memory.
In the true tradition of a Southern gentleman, Wade gets away regularly with his beloved Britanys, Penny (right) and Sue, for a morning or afternoon of birdhunting at the family farm.
"I Don’t remember…” Wade trails, smiling and looking down. Although, you can tell he remembers the gist of the night; only the details that have gotten a bit blurry over time.
“You don’t remember?” Sissy gently chides and continues with the story. “I remember everything. There were these two other girls [up for high school weekend] and we were all talking about who we had met. I told them that I thought I had just met the man of my life. They started rolling their eyes! Those were Wade’s sisters I was talking to!”
A perfect match is just what the two have been—and not just because they still kindle a romance into their golden years. Individually, Wade and Sissy have a lot to offer, but as a unit they do even more, with one continuously encouraging the other. For them, to live is to give, to celebrate love and people such that real differences are made.