Windsor Jordan Sr. started his professional career in his mother’s catering business shooing flies off of food, serving drinks, washing dishes and anything else that needed doing.
He ended it there as well, having gone off to college, to the Army and a baking school before coming home to take over the Mary B. Jordan Catering Service until his retirement.
Between his boyhood and retirement, Windsor Jordan went from a humble beginning in Atlanta’s University Homes, the first federal housing project for African-Americans in the nation, to Buckhead soirees, cooking for Georgia governors and at corporate events for the likes of Coca-Cola. He was so successful and so well liked that he was often invited to the high-dollar parties he was not serving.
“I was at the Kennedy Center last week,” said brother Vernon Jordan, who also started life helping his mother and ended up a civil rights worker, high-powered Washington lawyer and confidant of President Bill Clinton.
“A lady walked up to me and said, ‘Your mother and your brother did my wedding in Atlanta 30 years ago, and it was the best food and the best service I ever had. And I remember it and am grateful for it.’
“That happens to me all over the country. You mother did my bar mitzvah; your brother did my wedding.”
Windsor Jordan Sr., 80, died Dec. 5 after a a period of declining health.
A look at his life tells the story of his mother’s influence on his life, and of a man who knew the pains of hard work and the sweetness of success.
Jordan’s wife, Adelaide Solomon-Jordan, recalled that when asked by his mother what he wanted to do when he grew up, Windsor answered, “I just wanna work with you Momma.”
He graduated from Atlanta city schools during the days of segregation and attended Hampton University, where he majored in home economics. His declared major confused school administrators, who initially assigned him to a woman’s dorm.
He changed his living quarters, but not his field of study.
He left after a year for a stint in the Army, during the Korean war. After that he attended the American Baking Institute, held a couple of corporate jobs and then returned home to Atlanta and the family catering business.
He and Mary, who started in her basement, worked their way up the ladder, though Mary snared some pretty illustrious gigs early, such as working in the Governor’s Mansion as early as the Herman Talmadge administration. Talmadge left the office in 1955. They later moved their business to a location in the Old Fourth Ward, then to a spot on Howell Mill Road.
Windsor’s and Vernon’s half-brother, Warren Griggs, also became a chef in Atlanta.
Mary worked mostly events for Atlanta’s white population in an age when serving whites was a role African-Americans were expected to fill by the power structure. She succeeded with vengeance, earning enough to send her children to college. By the time Windsor was in charge of the business, he was working both white events and for the emerging African-American middle class and upper crust, with a wisdom gained of experience and quiet consideration.
He told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Gary Pomerantz in 1997 that he understood the way things were.
Pomerantz recorded him saying: “With all of Atlanta’s forward thinking … (pause) “I would think by now in Atlanta, with the education and with all of the joint ventures between whites and blacks in business, that the social parties might be 50-50, black-and-white.”
He shakes his head. “But you’ve always had the Buckhead caste system and the West Side caste system.”
“My mama said social integration would never happen. She always said that. She felt social integration wasn’t really what it was about.
“She said it was about business.”
Though a thoughtful man, he also had a great sense of fun.
Vernon Jordan said his brother was driving home one night after a date and dance at the Royal Peacock club downtown. A red-hot song came on the radio and the then-young Windsor pulled the car to the curb, cranked up the volume, threw open the doors, grabbed his girl and got out on the sidewalk and danced.
“Windsor just was taken by the music and his date, and so they danced,” he said with a laugh.
James Ellis tells similar stories of Windsor in later life. The two became fast friends after Windsor catered a party for Ellis. Windsor traveled with the Ellis family to their daughter’s wedding in Hawaii, and he carefully reviewed the menu, making suggestions, and talked to the property manager, bell boys, and service workers to make sure everything was being done “correctly,” Ellis recalled.
Then, when a reggae band was playing afterward, he invited the manager and others staying in and working at the property to come and enjoy the music and party. He was so friendly, approachable. People had trouble saying no to him.
“We celebrated life, and I celebrated it with him,” Ellis said.
Windsor is survived by his oldest child Lyndon N. Lassiter (nicknamed Terry), and her mother Barbara Worthy; son W. Adrian Jordan, daughter, Kyna Jordan, whom he nicknamed “Nikki” and their mother Laura B. Jordan; and his twin sons, Ross S. Jordan and Windsor L. Jordan Jr. their mother and his wife, Adelaide Solomon-Jordan.
Services will be held Saturday, Dec. 9, at 11 a.m. at St. Paul AME Church, 1540 Pryor Rd., Atlanta.