Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Sarah Belk Gambrell is a Charlotte treasure

I'm so in awe of Sarah Belk Gambrell, the matriarch of the Belk department store family and one of Charlotte's most beloved philanthropists, that when I'm around her, I can hardly speak. To me she symbolizes everything I love about Charlotte. She's beautiful, an excellent businesswoman and she works hard to make Charlotte a better place to live because of her support of the arts, education and programs that help the disadvantaged. Yet she's humble. She feels she's here to serve, not be served. 

On Sunday afternoon, around 100 of her closest friends and family gathered in the backyard of her home in the Eastover neighborhood to celebrate her 95th birthday. I was honored to cover it for the Observer.  

Here's a link to the story:

It took me a while, but I finally go up my nerve to ask Sarah if I could have my photo taken with her.  I made sure everything I wore to the party was from Belk, which wasn't hard since it's one of my favorite places to shop. 

The Gambrell family's go-to event planner, Sikky Rogers of Clarke Allen, organized the beautiful afternoon.  I love this tender moment between Sarah and Sikky captured by Observer photographer David T. Foster III (he took all the photos on this blog.) 

Guests gathered under an elegant white tent from Party Reflections decorated with crystal chandeliers and accents of blue. Everyone sat at round tables with blue tablecloths and white lace overlays. The centerpieces from the Blossom Shop included blue hydrangeas mixed in with white roses, tulips and peonies.

I really enjoyed getting to know Sarah's only child, Sally Gambrell, and Sally's four children: twins Charlie and Cooper, 14; Christopher, 10; and Caleb, 7. The boys played hard in the backyard amid the magnolias, azaleas, camellias and cherry blossoms as guests sipped on hot tea and mimosas while eating tea sandwiches, scones and tiny fruit tarts from Best Impressions catering as a trio performed classical music. 

I asked Christopher how he would describe his grandmother. “She’s funny, active, smart, a genius and she loves children,” he said.

Here's a photo of Sally and her sons as they sing "Happy Birthday" to Sarah.

Sally owns a popular yoga studio, Yoga One, that I hear a lot of buzz about. She told me that she thinks it is successful because she applies the business practices her mother taught her: Offer a great product at a fair price and take care of your customers and your employees while giving back to your community. 

Sally also told me that her mother has an insatiable need to learn new things. She subscribes to almost 60 periodicals that cover topics ranging from news, world affairs to retail trends. 

In this video clip I took, Sarah is surrounded by her grandsons as she blows out the candles on her cake, with some assistance from Sally. You can hear Sally say that we all need to help each other.  To me that sums up the legacy of the remarkable Sarah Belk Gambrell. 

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