Brooks and Riess relax by the Delaware Bay.
Riess Livaudais and Brooks Woodward
The flamboyantly decadent New Orleans sports a long list of notables who have called it their home. Truman Capote, Ellen DeGeneres, Mahalia Jackson, Emeril Lagasse, Fats Domino, Tennessee Williams, Anne Rice, Louis Armstrong, pirate of note Pierre Lafitte, assassin of note Lee Harvey Oswald, and even alleged closet-case of note Richard Simmons—just to name a few—were either born in New Orleans or spent much of their lives there.
But on August 29, 2005, The Big Easy would suddenly not be all that easy any more. Hurricane Katrina changed everything for the city that proudly lived the good life—below the level of the river that defined it. And the effect of that cataclysm is still felt today, even to the point of being responsible for this very article. Because without Riess Livaudais’ having fled New Orleans with Katrina on his heels, he’d probably still be there and I’d be writing about somebody else. So if that dark cloud had even the slightest glimmer of a silver lining, it’s that it gave me the chance to meet him and his husband, Brooks.
Riess Livaudais is a fifth generation New Orleanian. His family owned a plantation that eventually became the Garden District, and in fact the landmark Commander’s Palace restaurant, founded in 1880, displays a plaque by the front door that places the building on the site of the former J.F.E. Livaudais Plantation.
Riess attended Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans, earning a degree in business. He worked a variety of jobs, including the administration of the mail-order division of the famous Café Du Monde. But he was always drawn to the ocean, and even as a child spent every free moment in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi—a town that he likens to Lewes here in Delaware. In fact he was relaxing there when reports of Katrina’s approach began to flood the airwaves. He drove back to New Orleans to be with his parents, secure that his father— who had outlasted every hurricane up to that time—would know how to ride it out.
That security vanished for the 25-year-old when his mother woke him early Sunday morning: “We’re leaving!” Their plan was to drive to Houston, but the Interstate was choked, so they fled to his aunt’s house in Charlotte, NC, eventually living in Charleston, SC for a month. Riess was glued to CNN as New Orleans and Bay St. Louis were battered unmercifully. “I had friends and neighbors who ended up in the top of oak trees – deposited there by the 35-40 ft. storm surge. I thought, ‘I’ll just wake up tomorrow and this will all have been a dream.’ Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.” Dialing a 504 area code was impossible, but people kept track of one another through the relatively new-fangled text message.
The family finally returned home in mid-October. “It was depressing to live there. The restaurants that weren’t flooded were closed because of rotting food and infestations. There were no street lights. No gas stations. It was a ghost town.” Because of the devastation, his father’s business shifted to Houston, and dad had to go where his job was. But Riess went back to his beloved Bay St. Louis. “I tried to pull my normal life back together, but everything within a mile of the water was just a slab.” Finally it was just too much.
As a skilled competitive sailor, Riess landed a job in Maryland with Annapolis Performance Sailing. The sport is not known for being, in his words, “super-embracing of gay men,” so like many gay Annapolitans, Riess partied in Baltimore. It was there in a Mount Vernon sushi restaurant that he met Brooks Woodward. From that moment they were inseparable. All of a sudden the testosterone-laced sport of sailing took a back seat to Baltimore and Brooks. In 2008 Riess earned his real estate license and catered to his second love, historic properties. In fact, their home in Baltimore is on the National Historic Register.
Dr. Brooks Woodward is the dental director for Chase Brexton Health Care in Baltimore, operating an extensive dental practice in the Mt. Vernon Center on Charles St. In the summer of 2008 friends invited he and Riess to a place they’d never heard of: Rehoboth Beach. “It reminded me of Bay St. Louis,” Riess tells me wistfully. In their search for a home, they were drawn to a 1960s cottage in Broadkill Beach. “The drive through the wildlife preserve sold it,” he says. “It was so quiet and peaceful.” By April 2012 it was theirs to gut, redo and totally rebuild. On February 13, 2013, the two men entered into wedded bliss. “I wanted to wake up married on Valentine’s Day.”
Livaudais works with the Long & Foster office in Lewes when he isn’t selling for them in Baltimore, and Brooks continues to oversee the dental doings at Chase Brexton. But they flee to Broadkill Beach every weekend. “Once we cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, both our blood pressures drop.”
Those of us who hail from the other side of that bridge know exactly what he’s talking about.