Meet Jan Conrad and Ann Brittain – Friends for Life
By Leslie Moore
Forty years ago, when Ann Brittain and Jan Conrad first became friends, Myrtle Beach was much different than it is today. It was a small town, where locals knew each other and most everyone worked hard all summer to meet the needs of visitors who came to enjoy the wide beaches and southern hospitality. Ann Brittain’s parents owned Dayton House, then a hotel, now a resort, on Ocean Boulevard. Ann’s mother and father worked long hard hours caring for their guests and young Ann grew up helping them in the business. “My mother, Clyde Thomas, cooked a big lunch for the entire staff every single day,” remembers Ann.
Jan Conrad’s life was more sedate. Her mother, Ruth Gore, was a typical 1950s wife and homemaker. “I always felt Mrs. Gore was very elegant and creative,” remembers Ann. But, the two women knew each other and were friends for many years until Mrs. Thomas’ death.
Sitting in Sea Captain’s House in Myrtle Beach with Ann and Jan, it was immediately obvious that these two have a special bond. They are so at ease with each other and almost seem to read each other’s mind. Every other sentence was punctuated with peals of laughter, and just being with them was fun. Both are successful, professional women – elegant and attractive. Ann is the managing partner of Brittain Resort Management, and Jan is an interior designer with Rose Arbor in Myrtle Beach.
Ann remembers the first time she saw Jan. “I was in 2nd grade and was standing in the lunchroom. I saw Jan across the room – she had a ribbon in her hair.” The girls were friends from that point on, but didn’t truly bond until high school at Coastal Academy. “We knew each other through school, but became really close in the 11th grade,” remembers Jan. “I taught Ann to drive – she would only drive on Ocean Boulevard; I had to coax her to drive on the highway.” Both women began laughing at this fond memory and told me that at that time, there was no traffic in Myrtle Beach during the off season, so there was plenty of room to practice!
“I have older brothers, and Jan has younger brothers,” said Ann. “We both needed a sister.” I asked what kind of teenagers they were and Ann told me, laughing, “It’s not that we didn’t get into trouble, we just didn’t get caught!” Both girls had a lot of friends, but always came back to each other. “We both accentuate the positive and always have a good time. Through the years, we’ve learned that things have a way of working out.”
Jan then added, “And, we’ve never been jealous of each other’s friendships, we grew with each other.”
“Friends have to have the ability to take each other for granted,” said Ann. “And, never hold it against the other.”
After the girls graduated from high school, both attended Converse College, but Jan soon transferred to Clemson. Ann moved to Boston after college, changed her name to Anna (her real name) and learned to drink coffee during the cold New England winter. Of course, Jan had to join her friend, and, of course, they had a few adventures.
“We flew to Nantucket on a very small plane,” Ann remembers. “After we arrived, we hitchhiked to a friend’s house where we lived on peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches! We were young and broke, but the local bar had free food during happy hour – we never felt deprived!”
Eventually Jan and Ann returned home to Myrtle Beach. Both married. Both were each other’s maid of honor. “Ann was six months pregnant at my wedding,” Jan said. “She carried three dozen roses to cover her stomach. My bouquet was four dozen roses – Ann had to struggle to hold them all.”
Ann, raised in the hotel business, was determined not to have anything to do with the industry as an adult. “God shows me constantly that I am not in charge,” she said. “I met David [Brittain] at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. My daddy liked him and pointed him out saying, ‘How about that boy? He’s got good character.’ David was old fashioned in matters of dating, so he planned a party and had someone invite me. The rest is history.”
Both women had a boy and a girl. Life was a whirlwind of work, children and family. But, the friends stayed close. They told me they had every hairstyle and went from skinny to plump several times. This was told with much more laughing. “Most sisters I know fight, but Jan and I have rarely had any disagreements,” said Ann thoughtfully. “Our relationship is closer than most sisters I believe.”
As much laughter as the two women have shared, it was only through the tears that they became aware of how much they meant to one another. Jan and her husband divorced, leaving her to finish raising her children alone. Ann and David stood by her side while she grieved the loss of her marriage. “Ann and David never gave up on me,” said Jan. “They would come by and insist I go out to dinner with them and included me in most everything they did.”
Tragedy struck Ann just a short year and a half ago when she lost her beloved David. Now it was Jan’s turn to comfort, and she is still Ann’s rock as she journeys through her grief. “Jan and all my friends have helped me get through this,” Ann said thoughtfully. “Our friend Heidi Vukov has also been very good to me – she likes to take care of both of us. You have to let people love you.” Ann has stayed in the Brittain family business and works long hours this time of year. “The Brittain family has been wonderful to me. It’s easy to work with everyone – I grew up in this business!”
Today, both women rely on a strong faith that helps them navigate life’s ups and downs. “We wake up and watch Joyce Meyer on television every morning, and then, later, we discuss it,” said Jan. Both women believe their positive outlook on life has allowed their friendship to grow and remain strong. Jan has remarried, and her husband, Carl, has become one of them. “We gave him our stamp of approval,” said Ann. Jan’s children, Trask, 22, and Catherine, 24, are both very close to their mom and to “Aunt” Ann. Catherine lives in Atlanta and Trask is in college in the area. Ann’s son, Rand, 25, is finishing law school at USC, and her daughter Anna, 23, lives in Charleston. Both feel they have a second mom in their Aunt Jan. After growing up together, these young adults also share a special bond, especially Anna and Catherine who’ve become nearly as close as their mothers.
Jan’s daughter, Catherine, remembers her mother and Aunt Ann planning a trip to New York City, her first. “The 9/11 bombing happened just before we planned to go, and we considered cancelling out trip. Mom and Aunt Ann decided that not even terrorists were going to stop us from going. We had a great time, even though we were a little nervous, especially when American troops bombed Iraq during our stay – it was a week after 9/11. I have been blessed with two amazing and strong willed mothers.”
When I asked Anna about her mom and Aunt Jan, she told me, “My mother and Aunt Jan have a special friendship. They certainly epitomize ‘B.F.F.s.’ Since birth, I have essentially had two mothers, one being Ann, my real mother, and the other being my Aunt Jan. In her eyes, I am her other daughter, and she often sweetly refers to me as such. Also, through Aunt Jan, I was provided with the most precious gift, my ‘sister’ and life-long best friend, her daughter Catherine. My mother, Aunt Jan, Catherine, and I were always a foursome – the dynamic that exists between the four of us is rare and special. With Catherine living in Atlanta, and me being in Charleston, it is often hard to find the time to communicate as much as we would like. As with many relationships, like the tide, it is constantly ebbing and waning, and we go through stages where we are closer than others. However, our mothers help keep our friendship kindling. Catherine and I are certainly well on our way to being ‘B.F.F.s’ like our moms.”
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.