THE WINE and whiskey flowed, but there were no toasts.
Twelve hours after Scott Waldrup was killed a few blocks away, his compatriots in Savannah’s food and beverage industry gathered at the Grey, the landmark restaurant on MLK Blvd. where he tended bar and served as general manager.
About 75 servers, kitchen staff and patrons came to mourn the beloved 30 year-old after Grey proprietor Johno Morisano posted on Facebook Wednesday morning that the restaurant would be closed for service, but those who wished to stop by were welcome. For now, those who make their living serving others left the dirty glasses where they were.
In the earliest hours of July 5, Waldrup died at the scene after Jerry Chambers, 17, hit him with an SUV after driving onto the curb onto West Bay Street at Barnard while trying to evade police. Witnesses say someone in the car fired shots into the City Market Fourth of July celebrations at 12:13 am, and Chambers sped three blocks before crashing the vehicle. The two passengers in the car were also killed.
Chambers, who made the news after shooting and carjacking a 63 year-old woman at Savannah Mall a year ago, faces three counts of murder as well as charges for the shooting.
Before the impact, Waldrup heroically pushed several people out of harm’s way, according to a Facebook post by Savannah firefighter Bob Milie.
Ginger-bearded with a radiant smile, Waldrup was known throughout the city for his well-crafted cocktails, exuberant hospitality and unabashed zest for life.The North Carolina native was active in the LGBTQ community and was recently installed as the development director for Savannah Pride.
“Scott was everything a human being should be—hard working, generous and kind,” said Morisano, the only one busily carrying trays to the empty kitchen, his signature kinetic energy visibly dampened by the tragedy. “He will be so missed.”
Offering food is the universal human response to horrific loss, and the local restaurant community brought its best to the Grey that first afternoon of grief.
Pizzas from Vinnie Van Go-Gos and boxes of colorful donuts from Rise piled up on the tables, and a cooler of single serve cups of Leopold’s Ice Cream sat on the floor near the booths.
But no amount of nourishment could fill the hole left by Waldrup’s death. Grey executive chef Mashama Bailey, who had been walking “two steps behind” Waldrup at the moment of the crash, arranged and rearranged vases of flowers brought by mourners. Morisano’s gentle Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Flounder and Otter, seemed to sense the sadness, nuzzling hands and offering a soft head to pat. Waldrup’s parents, David and Terry, sat in the back of the restaurant, quietly accepting tearful condolences.
A hush fell over the dining room as Waldrup’s partner, Tart Johnson, entered. The former staff of the recently-closed Florence, where Johnson had tended bar, immediately enveloped him in hugs.
The personal loss is also a professional one for many who came to the Grey on Wednesday afternoon. The innovative restaurant, along with a handful of other new fine dining establishments, have set a new standard for service in Savannah in recent years, and Waldrup’s death was described as a tremendous blow to a tight-knit hospitality industry working to promote the value of high-level skills.
“People say that Savannah doesn’t have it, but there are people here who make it world class, and Scott was the best,” said a Grey regular who often sat at the horseshoe-shaped bar where Waldrup oversaw the dining room.
Lamented another longtime patron, “He just got it, and there are so few people who do. He understood what it meant to serve and saw the honor of it.”
Waldrup’s fellow service folk echoed the sentiment, describing what a joy it was to work with him and heralding his managerial prowess.
“No one was more loved than him. Restaurants are like family anyway, and he was a true brother,” cried a co-worker.
Throughout the city, the tragedy was a clarion call to demand action for a crime problem spun out of control. On Thursday, a crowd of more than 200 marched from Ellis Square to City Hall, cramming the chamber during the city council meeting to demand better protection against violence.
Mayor Eddie DeLoach maintained that the City would continue with its current strategy to address crime and gang activity.
Demands for a better strategy continued on Friday afternoon at a celebration of life for Waldrup in Pulaski Square.
As the young man’s loved ones shared stories of his talents and warmth, Morisano also took the opportunity to address the larger social problems that created the circumstances for Waldrup’s death.
“What is going on here, it’s not a black or white issue. It’s not a gay or straight issue. It’s a Savannah issue,” said Morisano to the somber crowd.
“Political and cultural loyalties don’t matter when people are dying. We can no longer stick our heads in the ground or accept the paralysis because of social, racial and class divides.”
As the memorial concluded, people lingered in the square to remember Waldrup and discuss how better education, career pathways, and a higher minimum wage might be viewed as solutions to the city’s poverty and crime.
Many left to don aprons for another busy dinner shift, swallowing their grief as they returned to their stations to serve meals and beverages in Savannah’s bustling restaurant scene. The Grey reopened on Friday night.
“Service communities are always like families, but here, it’s special. It’s the whole community. People will always show up,” remarked a veteran local bartender and close friend of Waldrup, smiling ruefully through her tears.
“It’s why we call this place home, in spite of it all.”