Discover fun facts and stories about your favorite island.
Compiled by Sea Island Life Staff
In the summer of 2004, Sea Island hosted the G8 Summit, an event that shone an international spotlight on the area. The U.S. president and first lady, delegates from around the world, their staffs, security, Secret Service, media and all of the excitement that surrounds the summit descended on the island for the high-profile occasion, which took place June 8-10. It required months of preparation and planning with all hands on deck. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the event, here are just a few stories from the G8 Summit. As The Lodge’s Executive Chef John Helfrich says, “[It was] definitely an event that we’ll never forget—that’s for sure.”
Blair Webb, Sea Island director of catering and conference services: “When I came to Sea Island in November of 2003, on my first day, I walked into the office. The service manager walks up to me and puts a stack of files on my desk. He goes, ‘Here you go.’ I say, ‘What’s that?’ And he says, ‘Well, it’s the G8.’ I say, ‘Well, thank you.’
“I went on with my business that day, then went home to my wife and said, ‘What’s a G8?’ But here I was with all these stacks of papers and I found out very quickly what it was. It was a great honor.
“I think because of the magnitude of security and the magnitude of awareness, there will never be anything that will ever come close to [the G8 Summit]. The amount of time for planning and the amount of time for preparation was pretty extensive, but educational at the same time, because we were able to work with the White House staff and White House stewards, who were individuals that served the president and first lady at any of their events. So they taught us the protocol … [for] a service level from their standpoint. It helped to instill some of the service standards we still have here at Sea Island.”
John Helfrich, executive chef at The Lodge: “I was the executive banquet chef at the time. I reported to the executive chef and was pretty heavily involved in the planning and execution, schedules, menus, all that stuff. We started preparing six to eight months prior. … We took pictures of everything, and then it went off to somewhere and it would come back, and we had to change a few things, tweak them. … If there were two or three cooks prepping for a breakfast function, there was a person in the kitchen watching from the Food and Drug Administration and then there was someone from the Secret Service there.
“At one of the meals, [former French President] Jacques Chirac had asked if he could have a cheeseburger. [Security] was really tight about … when we were allowed to bring food in and what we were allowed to bring in. We didn’t have any hamburgers down there, so we had to make hamburgers at the temporary kitchen that we had set up for in-room dining. Someone came down and grabbed them and whisked them down the drive at around 80-100 mph. It was pretty exciting. Once [Chirac] asked for a cheeseburger, a bunch of other guys were like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll have a cheeseburger, too.’ ”
Ike Podlesny, butler at The Lodge: “When the King of Bahrain [Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa] ordered breakfast every morning, he didn’t do the actual ordering; his associate did it. When his associate called in his order, he asked for one of everything because he didn’t know what the king was in the mood for that day. So he received an order of waffles, pancakes, eggs, bacon … everything on the room service menu—he got one of each—every day.”
Mike Kennedy, Sea Island director of recreation:
“I took President George W. Bush fishing. It was interesting because the waterways were closed to all boaters the whole week of the G8 Summit. I got the call to take the president at about 9 [a.m.] and no one told the Coast Guard. So I came flying out of the little creek in a flats boat [and] I got pulled over at gunpoint.
“Within about five minutes, the chief of the Coast Guard team came over in a helicopter and they were screaming over the radio, ‘Get him out of the red zone! He’s a threat to national security! Where did he come from?’ Meanwhile, I’m on my knees with my hands in the air and machine guns are pointed at me.
“My cellphone kept ringing. They finally let me answer it and it was Bill Jones, who was the Sea Island Co. chairman and CEO at the time. I could see the dock where Jones was waving at me. I told him I was under arrest and he said he wanted to talk to the Coast Guard guy.
“Then I see [the Coast Guardsman] turn to the dock and say, ‘Yes sir, Mr. President, I see you waving your hat. I’ll let him go immediately.’ Then they escorted me to the dock and I took the president fishing in the flats boat.
“We had a Secret Service guy onboard that the president called ‘Batman.’ The counter-assault team that traveled with the president was in inflatable rafts surrounding us the whole time, and they also had spotting scopes and snipers on the banks watching us, too.”
Brannen Veal, Sea Island director of golf: “I was asked to give a golf lesson to the president of Yemen, who had obviously never seen a golf club before. It was he and I, and all of his bodyguards, all of [whom] were carrying guns. … It was a little intimidating.
“As we were looking out of The Lodge Pro Shop window one morning, two foreign security personnel had their carts lined up on the 10th tee of the Plantation Course like they were going to race. Sure enough, they take off riding over all of the tees, straight down the fairway. We thought, ‘Surely, they’re not going to ride over the middle of the green.’ But they rode right over the center of the 10th green. A staff member had to go ask them not to drive there.”
James Fryer, butler at The Lodge: “I was one of the designated butlers to handle the Algerian staff at The Lodge. I worked mainly with the personal butler for Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Every time there was a request, he would say, ‘Jimmy, come quick.’
“It was about 1 in the afternoon when I got a call: ‘Jimmy, come quick.’ On this particular occasion, I could tell Bouteflika was unhappy about something. With his limited English and my attempts to pick up a few French words, I found out that it had to do with his laundry that had been sent out that morning. Normally, clean laundry will be returned by 5 p.m., but he wanted it now. I talked him into going with me to The Lodge Pro Shop to find a shirt.
“I ended up buying him a Ralph Lauren polo to wear. … His laundry was en route, delayed by the multiple security checkpoints. At about 4 p.m., it arrived. He started to take off the Ralph Lauren shirt that he thought to be a loaner, but I told him it was his to keep. Even though he had plenty of nice clothing to wear, he graciously accepted the polo from the Pro Shop and wore it proudly.”
Judi Morgan, Sea Island Club member: “Our neighborhood, Black Banks [was] the first stopping point where cars were checked. … We were just truly honored and pleased to have all these members of our armed forces throughout our neighborhood the whole time. I’m a Marine Corps brat and grew up on Marine Corps bases, so it brought back such good childhood memories for me. They were the nicest, most gentlemanly guys—and young, baby-faced kids. We all opened our homes to them.
“We had a basement … and we said [to the soldiers], ‘We’re going to leave the basement door unlocked. There’s a refrigerator down there stocked with soft drinks and water, and there’s a restroom down there.’ They’d just come in and out—they were quiet, but we’d just hear the door close and I would think, ‘I’ve never felt so safe in our neighborhood.’
“At the end of the event, we had a Lowcountry boil at our neighbor’s house. We all brought food and wine and beer, and they just had a blast. We all bid them farewell, got their addresses and wrote notes to their superiors to let them know what a great job they’d done representing themselves and their service.”