When Gaylord Jenkins was growing up in Augusta she had dreams. She was tall, and elegant and beautiful. She believed in fairy tales, in the larger world beyond Georgia.
And lucky for her, no one told her dreams don’t come true.
“When I did my first résumé in high school I said I wanted to be a professional model in Europe, internationally known,” she said. Of course, no one believed her.
After living in Naples for 35 years and strutting along the fashion runways in Rome, London, Paris, Milan, Florence and other fashion centers, there is no doubt her dream came true.
“I am blessed,” she said with a big smile as she thought about the life that has come full circle. “Mom taught us to give back.”
Jenkins lives in Augusta now after retiring from modeling, and she is giving back to the community where she grew up. She has assembled and tutored a group of models for a fundraiser for the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.
A Fashion, Art, Wines & Cheese will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 7, at The Richmond on Greene, 725 Greene St. Sponsored by the Friends of Jessye Norman School of the Arts, all money raised will be used to upgrade the kitchen at the school located at 739 Greene St.
Tickets are $40, or $25 for students with identification, and may be purchased at the school from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday or at Pyramid Music and International Formal Wear. For information call Lula Williams, president of the Friends organization at (706) 836-3058.
Jenkins is still tall (six feet), elegant and beautiful. Even though she has given up the glamor of fashion modeling, she still turns heads whenever she walks by. And she has a smile that lights up a room. She says she remembers a poem by Padre Pio, an Italian saint, who wrote, “A smile costs nothing. It is a gift.”
Jenkins smiles a lot because she considers herself so fortunate. While attending Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta she went to Italy to visit her sister Frontaine Freeman and her husband Tyrone, who was in the military.
“They lived on a military base and they took me to a fashion show,” Jenkins recalled. “I didn’t know any Italian. After the show a lot of the people were taking photos of me. It was exciting and frightening.
“A friend, Luigi Cardone, told me to go to the bar. Afterwards, he said, ‘You were offered five jobs tonight.’ ”
Jenkins was supposed to go home after a two-week visit, but the modeling jobs kept coming in and she stayed on. Her sister’s family left after their six-month tour of duty was up, but Gaylord stayed and became fluent in Italian.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of beautiful people.”
Designers like Valentino, Feragamo, Gucci, Versace and Bulgari kept calling and she kept modeling. Once, when she was in a New York fashion show, her family came to see her perform.
“That was the top,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins realized she couldn’t model forever so when a modeling agency asked her to teach classes she jumped at the opportunity. She eventually opened her own school, called Gaylord and You.
“The motto was ‘not only comportment, but much, much more,’” Jenkins said. She taught women from age 14 to adult, teaching self esteem, posture, etiquette, respect, responsibility. “It’s the same thing my mom taught all of us.”
On staff she had a professional hair stylist, makeup artist and speech therapist. The students went to a hotel to learn how to set a table. The classes met twice a week for six months.
“The greatest satisfaction is the parents coming back and thanking me,” she said. “It wasn’t only about modeling. I had girls with eating problems, sleep disorders. I remember how I was when I was 13-14 years old, going through adolescence.
“Mom taught us to give back.”
Jenkins said her mother, Ethel Jenkins, raised four daughters and a son, after her husband, Army Sgt. Albert T. Jenkins, died young.
“Mom enrolled me at the YWCA for charm and etiquette classes,” said Jenkins. “At the end they organized a fashion show, and I was hooked.”
Jenkins said her mother and her sister Sylvia Edwards, who is two or three inches taller, were always telling her to stand up straight and walk with confidence.
“My mom was full of sayings, like love yourself, be responsible and have a positive attitude,” she said. “My mom is my rock. That’s why I came back to Augusta.”
Jenkins has another dream, and that is to bring Gaylord and You to Augusta.
“I would like to help out young girls and give back what was given to me,” she said.
She is doing that with the Friends of Jessye Norman School fashion show, giving modeling lessons to the volunteer models, coordinating the clothes, the music and the choreographer. She also has arranged for a hair stylist and a makeup artist to be certain everything in the show will be done on a professional level.