The Gentleman Host: A Timeless Tradition
Advice from Williamson County’s most refined Gentleman, Mr. Ronald Ligon
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Soon there will be a lot of gatherings and celebrating with friends and family; opportunities and occasions to host in our home or workplace. This time of year, and these events, are one area where being a southern gentleman, I always try to take great care. I had the distinct honor of being invited to a dinner party hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Ligon a while back. I left there thinking what a wonderful evening and was in awe of Mr. Ligon being what I would describe as the perfect southern gentleman host. Ronald and Marty are known far and wide in our community as the consummate hosts. Being invited to their home for a dinner party or any event is not just a pleasure but a privilege. A privilege because, in all cases, the Ligon’s know a little something about hosting. As community volunteers and notable individuals in our community and being known for the most decorated home – every holiday and season - you will not find two more qualified to speak on hospitality. But my real desire was to pick Mr. Ligon’s brain this time and find out just what makes this southern gentleman tick when it comes to hosting and, well… being a southern gentleman in general. So, we sat down to discuss, and it’s a conversation I will never forget.
SG: What is your definition of a gentleman?
I have lived a long time, and I have seen a lot of changes — some for better, some for worse. When I was younger and planning to take a trip, no gentleman would even think about boarding an airplane without wearing a coat and tie. Today you wonder if they are even going to wear clothes at all. We live in a different age.
So, what is a gentleman? Today corporations are teaching etiquette classes to people who have master’s degrees. I find it fascinating that they never learned what fork or spoon to use while sitting at the dinner table. I guess because they didn’t sit at many dinners! This is a situation of how you were brought up. I think a gentleman knows how to act and what to do in any situation. The major thing is learning how to be polite and nice and appreciate other people. After that, other things will fall in place.
It’s such an amazing world we live in today. I look back and see how different things are. Entertaining has changed. One is how people come dressed to a party. You can even stipulate a dress code, but it’s as though they paid no attention. One night Roy Acuff, dressed in a very nice sport coat and tie, was going on stage. I knew him and told him, “Roy, you always dress nice, and I want to compliment you on it.” He said, “My momma always told me if I was going to appear before people, I should wear the best clothes I had.” That has stuck with me.
Today, everybody sends out these email (e-vite) invitations. They are simple and cheap. I don’t like them. I like the old way. I am a letter writer. I think a lot of being a gentleman is observing traditions of what was expected of a gentleman years ago. I still think opening a door, car or house, for a lady is a nice thing to do.
There are a lot of older traditions that I grew up with that still stand today. I think being a gentleman is doing what tradition has asked of them, and you can never go wrong with being polite and courteous.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. - Proverbs 22:6
SG: What are some of the things a gentleman should do when hosting at the holidays?
I love the holidays. It’s an occasion to be together with family and friends. But the whole thing is predicated on one thing… LOVE. You love your family, your friends; you want to be together. You want to do for them. There is nothing like it.
SG: What are the first rules of hosting you follow when planning an event?
When hosting, it is a team effort with my wife and me. We get together and decide exactly what we want to do. Is this a sit-down dinner, an open-house party, or a small, more intimate occasion with four to six guests? If you are going to entertain, you must keep records – you find out familiarities about people and make notes. What did we serve? What did we like? What did our guests like…or not like?
You can’t invite a certain number of people and expect them all to come. You have to be prepared for this. So, accept this and let it pass. ALL THIS IS IN THE PLANNING. People never invite enough people. We have entertained as much as anybody, and if you get fifty to sixty percent of your invites, you’re lucky. We live in a time where people have a lot going on, so you have to plan what day to have your gathering as not to be competing with other happenings.
If we invite forty couples and twenty show up, they are going to be scattered out. If we have 200 hundred people, they will be shoulder to shoulder. When you have people shoulder to shoulder, you will have a better time, and everyone there will have a better time. It’s just a phenomenon of entertaining. It makes it easier to visit and communicate whether you are an introvert or extrovert. This way, you are thrown into the crowd. If you are sitting alone across the room, someone may or may not come across the room to say hello.
SG: What are the top things you always do as the host?
Plan. Plan. Plan. Know what to do and execute the plan. Don’t hesitate to get help in preparing. You want to make things nice! When we invite people to our home, I want to meet you and greet you at the door. This is our home, and I want you to feel welcome. If you don’t have my wife or myself, who is connected with the home, to welcome you, you are left wondering where the party is. I believe that I ALWAYS say a blessing, no matter the occasion, be it with family or friends. Give a toast! Set place cards – know who to sit with whom, so the guests are comfortable and maybe meet someone new and interesting in the process! Saying goodbye is as important as saying hello. Thank your guest for coming.
Johnny’s Personal Hosting Tips:
- Get as much done in advance as possible.
- Set lighting; start a fire if you have a fireplace.
- Plan your music to the occasion.
- Appearing calm and collected when guests arrive is fundamental.
- Greet each guest warmly and individually.
- Introduce new guests to those who have arrived early.
- Take coats, ladies first. Prepare a closet or lay on a bed. You may want to have a “coat room,” one for ladies and one for gentlemen, so you don’t end up with a pile of coats in a mess.
- Offer new guests a drink as they arrive.
- Spend time with EACH guest.
- Have fun. A good host enjoys his own party. He has a good time – just not too good of a time. He is alert to what’s going on.
I could listen to Mr. Ligon all day, and after doing so on this topic, I now know the secret behind why the dinner party I attended as his guest, is one I so fondly remember. An occasion, not just a dinner. Warm and friendly, and sincere hospitality cannot be faked, and I, for one, love the old ways, the traditions, and the meaningful way, a true host, makes every guest feel like family when they enter their home. I know that I will be referring back to this conversation a lot in the coming weeks and always. Thank you, Mr. Ligon, for being such a consummate gentleman and inspiration to us all, young and older…
Your Southern Gentleman, Johnny Birdsong
Johnny Birdsong, Publisher at YOUR Williamson Magazine is a Kentucky native and Williamson County convert but above all, a Southern Gentleman. In upcoming issues, this column will feature Johnny to offer time-honored advice in the area of manners, hospitality, and what being a gentleman means as he chats and visits with such gentlemen from all over our county. You never know who he may be sitting down with next!