“My boss used to tell his buddies I was a streetwalker,” Sally Hayes said proudly, offering a sly grin and a mischievous laugh. And while most respectable ladies might take offense at being thus-described, the truth is, Sally did walk the Downtown Memphis streets and haunt the street corners for many years. In fact, her favorite spot was the corner of 2nd Street and Union, by the Peabody Hotel, where many of her “clients” stayed when they were in town.
All of this, of course, was on the up-and-up as, for 11 years, Sally Hayes carried out her volunteer work as a member of the Blue Suede Brigade, the hospitality arm of the Downtown Memphis Commission. Members of the Brigade are trained to provide assistance and information to visitors, workers, residents and businesses throughout Downtown. Along with that, trained to communicate via two-way radio, they are the supplemental eyes and ears of the business community and local law enforcement agencies. And, in Hayes’ case for sure, a big part of their job is making friends.
“People would come back again and again and say ‘Hi’ to me,” Hayes said. “I had a fellow from St. Louis tell someone, ‘There she is. If you have any questions, just ask. She’s always here whenever I come to Memphis.’ And, Patricia, from Italy, who came every year for Elvis week, would always look me up.”
Unfortunately, Hayes had to retire from her corner at the start of this year, sidelined by health issues. “I already miss the Blue Suede terribly, but I had to resign due to degenerative disc disease and degenerative arthritis,” she said. And Hayes is already missed in return – by her fellow Brigadiers, her visitor friends, local business people, and even animals. “The (carriage) horses miss me. I used to give Barney cookies,” she said. “And I hear the tall standard poodle, Spanky, has been sniffing around, looking for me. I used to give him doggie treats.”
Hayes has worked as an administrative assistant for G.A. Robinson Land Company in Memphis since 1996, and she joined the Blue Suede Brigade in 2005. “Gaston Davis, manager of the Brigadiers, recruited me from walking the streets (running errands) during lunch time,” Hayes said. “I loved every minute of being an ambassador of good will for Downtown Memphis, making it a more pleasant place to live, work and visit.”
“For three to four years I would run into Sally on the streets,” Gaston Davis said. “She had a gift for talking, and I thought she would make an excellent Brigadier. I begged her until 2005, and it was one of the best moves I ever made. Sally was one of those Brigadiers that had a following; visitors from many places would come to Memphis once a year, remembering her. Some remembered her love for University of Tennessee, her favorite sports team.”
And her friends remember Hayes even when they are not in Memphis. One group of ladies from California had such fun with her that they sent her a thank you note: “Hi Sally. Remember us? We sure enjoyed meeting you on the streets of Memphis. Thank you for your help. It made our trip wonderful!”
As those who have met Sally Hayes know, she does have the gift of gab (though she says she was a shy teenager). Stories and anecdotes tumble from her lips with ease, and she admits she sometimes embellished the information she offered when guiding visitors. “I was full of it,” she giggled. “I’ve been known to throw my hands up both ways (waving at friends) and keep talking.”
Hayes had fun with her Downtown neighbors as well as visitors. “When I first started Blue Suede, Tim Soro (of Henry Turley Realtors) would always ask where, for instance, Huey’s was – when I’d be standing right in front of it,” she said. “Finally, Karen, his wife, said, ‘Haven’t you figured him out yet?’ Of course I had.”
Hayes said she would miss working with her fellow Brigadiers, especially Fannie Garner. “Fannie is a sweetheart,” she said, “the jewel of the Blue Suede. She’s been there from the beginning with Gaston, and she makes it a better place for us all.”
Garner returned the compliments. “Sally was joyful, cheerful, productive, effective, enthusiastic and loyal. Once you met Sally, you would not forget her. She always left a lasting impression...Sally will always be BSB.”
Though she continues her employment with the land company, Hayes feels the absence of her Blue Suede duties strongly. “I don’t know what to do with myself,” she said. But she added, “I’m always going to be ‘with’ Blue Suede. I’ll still help people while I’m out. It’s in my nature.”
With so much valuable service to perform, the Blue Suede Brigade is always in need of more volunteers. Looking for something meaningful to do with your time? Visit Blue Suede Brigade for more information.