BUNNY IN THE CITY: Jessica Leigh Lebos' debut of “The Camellia Thief & Other Tales”

Updated May 3, 2023 at 9:52 a.m.

Ok, I may have gotten a little amped when I got an invite from “Savannah Sideways” icon Jessica Leigh Lebos for the debut of “The Camellia Thief & Other Tales” at 1 Lattimore Place on Wednesday April 26! 

Arriving early to mingle with fellow fans of one the best writers to ever grace the Savannah scene, I pass by dozens of seats in the front parlor and find the lady of the hour receiving guests. Showcasing a Farm Rio pantsuit, Jessica grabs me for a hug and gives me a layout of the night. 

After telling me that the luxurious estate we are in is courtesy of Noble Boykins and Shelley Smith, Jessica shares, “Treat yourself to all the amazing hors d'oeuvres that Shelley has so generously prepared, head into the library for a signed copy of the book, then hit outside to listen to Ricardo Ochoa and Travis Pullman while having a champagne toast with me later.” 

With VIPs steadily arriving, Jessica is getting bombarded with photo requests from fabulous females like Beth Logan. The former face for Hospice just happens to be my favorite Irish lass not only for her wicked writing talent (as Connect Savannah’s resident art columnist), but for her fluid use of curse words! Looking super luxe in an oriental sheath and vivid red lipstick, Beth poses with Jessica and April Haas before I move over to snap a pic of Andrew and Ann Hartzell. 

After overhearing the environmental activist telling her husband that the entrance with red velvet ropes reminds her of 1979 Studio 54, I mosey out to the back patio to chat with Karen Petersen and Robert Kinderman about leaving Wisconsin, and their 12-year love affair with our weather, quirky characters and 100 new friends. 

One of those friends is retired special education teacher Marti Treutelaar. Sipping on some bubbly, Marti is telling me about her love of pickleball, her grandkids, and the ukulele when I hear Maria Pahno Burns whisper my name. Smiling as I approach the 6’2” beauty, I think back on the years of seeing this iconic fashionista around Savannah and realize that I don’t know her back story. 

I have always associated the collage artist with the Irritable Pelican Gallery and  I knew the silver-haired beauty started a trend when she went platinum naturally years ago, but I didn’t realize how much she traveled. “I have visited 34 states, 33 countries and 6 continents, with Antarctica being the most fascinating so far,” shares Maria. 

Standing with her is Joni Taylor and Savannah Arts Academy grad Sami Salas. Admiring Sami’s rhinestone headdress, I ask the petite brunette to tell me something interesting. “I love unique pieces, and was going for a Renaissance period look tonight,” shares the poet who loves to draw and cook. 

Joni Taylor is a name I have heard for years, so it is a delight to put a name with a face! Sporting large earrings and a short perm to go along with her 1984 fashion style, Joni chats with me about her collection of vintage clothes, life in the Starland District, her collection of 75 hat boxes and her Facebook group, “Non Judgemental Gardners.” 

Proving that locals are the most colorful characters, Joni introduces me to her partner Mark Smith then heads off into the growing crowd of eclectic people which contains the fabulous Tom Cooler. How cool is that this professionally-trained chef made a life detour during COVID and bought 25 citrus trees with his younger brother Steve. 

Today there are over 400 trees, from pink lemons and Hamlin oranges to key limes and tangerines on their Quacco Rd/ Hwy 17 urban farm. With plans to have field days for homeschooled kids, I promise to catch the cool chef, guitarist (and new farmer) out at his farm this summer. 

Moving quickly to get every photo I can, I pause to talk with obviously happy couple Christi and Brad Hoolahan. Giggling when I suggest they may love sipping and socializing, I learn that we all met 11 years ago at Coffee Deli for Mary Ann Grant’s art reception. 

Fast forward to a different hairstyle, glasses and a job where she can work from home with Brad, I ask Christi what she loves about her husband. Loving her response of “it’s his twinkle; he had me at hello”, I totally get what she says because Brad definitely has that joie de vivre that I gravitate towards! 

Wishing I could chat longer, I headed over to meet critical care nurse Katie Alexandra. The six-foot tall Los Angeles native poses for a few pics while we talk about her past job at the Foley House, her love of dogs, and traveling. Speaking of traveling, someone who traveled a lot for one of the coolest jobs on the planet is the gorgeous Mary Armstrong Dugas. 

Working with WideSpread Panic from ‘93 to ‘06, Mary tells me, “I was in Athens, GA, when live music and listening to 92.9 became my thing. My soul was born.” Who would've known that her love for music would lead to working with Gregg Allman, and now his estate, along with being on the board of the Savannah Music Festival. 

Arriving next is another lady with a serious love of fashion and jewelry. Say “hey” to Alderwoman Linda Wilder Bryant. With wrists covered in bracelets, oversized earrings and a signature Burkina Faso necklace, Linda has always had her own style, and is busy making the rounds before pausing to pose for a pic. 

With perfect weather and a house full of family, supporters and subscribers. Jessica stands to thank her husband Mark and her guests for their patronage. As she lifts her champagne glass, she shares, “You are the reason ‘Savannah Sideways’ exists; you are the reason this book exists. To be a writer that gets paid to write has been my dream; it’s all I ever wanted to be, and you all make this possible for me. This is a toast to you and all you do for me.” 

As for me, I don’t consider myself a writer. Putting my thoughts in a coherent sentence is a struggle, but for someone who is an avid reader, the people I admire are people like Jessica: people who brand their words with personal insight and quiet observations like this collection of stories and columns that feeds us fun, fascinating things about our fair city. 

Where would we be without the written word, and what would Savannah be like if we didn’t have Jessica Leigh Lebos giving us her witty, brilliant view of life. We love you JLL!

Published May 3, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

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