Influence: it’s a tricky word. It operates on two levels—as noun and verb—and in a double-edged way: Influence is something to yield or wield, to have or hold. It can be positive or negative and come via dollars or decisions, via your vote or your voice; sometimes a few well-timed words can be a game-changer. Measuring influence can be more slippery and subtle still. The effect, power, or sway that someone or something has on a person or institution, or on a community or a region, even, is often uneven and difficult to quantify. It may be concentrated at certain times and diluted at others, and perhaps it may not become apparent until years or decades down the line.
So how to hone this list of the 40 influential individuals and groups over the last 40 years? Imperfectly, we admit. There was no rigid admissions rubric, no standardized test scores to evaluate. Gut and intuition may be the biggest influencer anyway, regardless of how objective and fair we try to be. Numerous incredibly influential people are not on this list, and we wish they were. But those who are included here have, undeniably, left a mark of consequence on various aspects of Charleston—her buildings and parks, her arts and her sciences, her classrooms and her causeways, and most recently her heart. They are business people, nonprofit leaders, deep pockets, not-so-deep pockets, disrupters, do-gooders, headline makers, and under-the-radar folks, rabble rousers of various ilk, four preachers, two mayors, and even an Oscar nominee. This is a top-40s compilation, a start at high-fiving some influential players. But the more important question remains: What will your influence be?
The Leader: Joseph P. Riley Jr.
Time and again throughout his 40-year tenure, Mayor Riley has proven himself worthy of our votes, trust, and admiration. Demonstrating the same resolve and resilience that led us through Hurricane Hugo’s destruction in 1989, Mayor Riley set the tone for our response to the massacre at Emanuel AME Church: “My Charleston will stand united in the face of evil,” he proclaimed. And we have.
Sworn into office as a 32-year-old Charleston thoroughbred with the standard local resumé—Bishop England, The Citadel, USC School of Law—Riley has evolved into a visionary leader, masterful consensus-builder, and heralded urban designer whose passion for creating a vibrant public realm will be his legacy. Young Joe campaigned on improving race relations in the ’70s—a work-in-progress—but his record of accomplishment and influence is too long and impressive to list here (there’s a revitalized King Street, Waterfront Park, a thriving Spoleto, lower crime rates, improved downtown schools, a sparkling new Gaillard, improved Crosstown, and revamped fire department, for starters…). He’s not perfect, but he’s our Joe, a wise soul and gifted public servant with Charleston’s best interests at heart, and for that we’ll always love him.
Remember Their Names: Ethel Lance, The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Susie Jackson, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and Myra Thompson
“Good people,” said President Obama in the College of Charleston’s TD Arena on June 26, 2015. “Decent people. God-fearing people. People so full of life and so full of kindness.” In town to eulogize State Senator and Mother Emanuel AME minister Clementa Pinckney, the President spoke of him and the other victims—Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons Jr., Myra Thompson—in a way that reached into our shattered hearts, hearts that cracked open when “The Nine” were mercilessly gunned down on June 17, 2015.
A man of God and civil servant, a coach, a librarian, a devoted grandmother, and more… these gentlefolk didn’t set out to become a turning point in our long-simmering history of racial unrest. They were simply going to Bible study on a regular Wednesday night. But their vicious, unholy massacre in their historic sanctuary means the Emanuel AME Nine will forever be part of our city’s—and our nation’s—stark reality and painful memory. We don’t yet know the full measure of the influence their vibrant lives and tragic deaths will hold, for Charleston or for the nation. But it will be big. And it will be resounding. It already is.
In the wake of this immense loss, we have gained renewed unity, at least symbolically in the joining of hands, thousands strong, to bridge racial divides. We have prayed together, sung together (thank you, Preacher-in-Chief), marched together, cried together. The Confederate flag, finally, has been furled on statehouse grounds; gun control—especially in light of the alleged shooter’s failed background check when buying his weapon—may gain traction; de facto segregation at Burke and Academic Magnet and other area schools may get renewed scrutiny; daily encounters with our neighbors, coworkers, and fellow citizens will have a new lens; the next time you check out a book at the library, you’ll say “thank you” in a reverent tone to the librarian. That’s how influence becomes influential. In small ways, in everyday ways, in symbolic gestures, in legislative measures, and on regular Wednesday nights in life-changing moments.
These days, this South Carolina State College alum, who was once jailed for participating in civil rights sit-ins, takes his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; having served since 1993, he is the third-ranking Democrat in the House. James Clyburn’s reputation as a leader and consensus builder is renowned. He has led the charge for increasing Pell grants for higher education, investing in science and math programs and historic preservation at historically black colleges, encouraging economic development through “Empowerment Zones,” and embracing green technology. He remains outspoken on social justice, civil rights, and anti-poverty issues, including funding for community health centers providing care to the uninsured. “He’s one of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens,” said President Obama.
The Dynasty: Anita Zucker & the Zucker Family
As business leaders; philanthropists; and hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves volunteers for numerous nonprofits, the Zucker family lives out a service-oriented generosity. A visionary inventor, the late Jerry Zucker founded the InterTech Group, a Fortune 500 company that his wife, Anita, now heads. After Jerry’s untimely death in 2008, she and her children have not only carried forth his business acumen and philanthropy, they have expanded the Zucker family impact, focused largely on improving education and economic development across the region. Supporting organizations ranging from Trident United Way and the Boy Scouts to The Citadel, MUSC, the College of Charleston, and Trident Tech, their impact and generosity continue to lift the Lowcounty in untold ways.
The Enforcer: Reuben Greenberg (1943-2014)
During his 23 years of service (1982 to 2005), the first African-American police chief in Charleston’s history cut the city’s crime rates significantly. After Hurricane Hugo, his firm stand helped prevent widespread looting, and his innovative techniques became a model for police departments around the country. He broke the mold in many ways: as a rodeo-loving Jewish Texan who dressed as Santa in the Christmas parade and as a street-patrolling, tough-talking policeman who was all business on the beat and all fun on roller skates. “Reuben opened doors of racial progress all over this community,” Mayor Riley said after Greenberg’s death last fall. “He made the city safer, and made it a more just and better place.”
The Commander: Dr. Ted Stern (1912-2013)
“Commander” may sound more stern than the gregarious and oft-grinning Ted Stern really was. His deftness as a leader, honed as a former commanding officer at the Charleston Naval Supply Center, transformed the College of Charleston from a financially troubled private college when he became president in 1968 to a robust institution only a decade later, with enrollment up tenfold and $34-million investment in capital expansion. He also helped found the Coastal Community Foundation in 1974 and was instrumental in creating and nurturing the Spoleto Festival USA as its founding president. “One of the most important things I’ve learned,” Stern once said, “is that a group of people working together can accomplish anything.”
The Spoletians: Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) & Nigel Redden
Charleston’s annual 17-day arts indulgence is our region’s cultural crown jewel, and Gian Carlo Menotti its crown bearer. The Italian-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer created the Festival dei Due Mondi in the sleepy town of Spoleto, Italy, in 1958, then established its American counterpart in Charleston in 1976. Though Menotti parted with the Charleston festival in 1993, his vision and creation remains vibrant, thanks to the able and steady hand of Spoleto’s general manager-turned-director Nigel Redden, who has worked with the board and staff to keep Spoleto in the black while raising the bar on programming and raising the curtain on capital improvements to the city’s premier venues, including Memminger Auditorium and the Dock Street Theatre.
The Cultured: Ellen Dressler Moryl
“Piccolo” translates as “little” in Italian, but in Charleston it means “mega.” As in Piccolo Spoleto’s mega 500-plus events in 17 days staged in umpteen venues, which is how Ellen Dressler Moryl created the regional offshoot to the international festival and led it for more than 30 years. In addition to being Piccolo’s champion, she was the mojo behind MOJA, the bounty behind the Charleston Farmers Market, the artistry behind the City Gallery, and on and on. As founding director of Charleston’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Moryl made all the city a stage and boldly promoted diverse arts offerings accessible to all citizens for more than three decades before retiring in 2013.
The Outsider-Art Insider: Mark Sloan
Grab a coffee at The Daily or lunch at Butcher & Bee, and tell Mark Sloan thanks. There, what was formerly a drab parking lot is now an inspiring outdoor art experience, transformed by a dazzling Shepard Fairey mural. Sloan has been challenging viewers by presenting artists whose work is out of the mainstream, and even out of the gallery and in the streets, throughout his 20-year tenure at the Halsey. When he assumed the helm, the College of Charleston’s contemporary art gallery was a bit of a sleeper. Today, it’s a re-booted “Institute” with a robust membership and impressive roster of exhibitions that keep raising the bar (and happily raising eyebrows) for Charleston’s broader contemporary art scene.
The Old Guard Chefs:
Charleston’s current restaurant boom had a prep-kitchen, so to speak, back in 1976, when German-born Franz Meier and Chris Weihs (aka the “European backbone” of Charleston’s culinary scene) purchased the Colony House and raised the bar for the city’s fine dining, as they did again in 1987, opening the then-revolutionary Carolina’s. Other trail- and palate-blazing restaurants, such as Robert’s, Marianne’s, and Restaurant Million, soon followed. By the late ’80s and early ’90s, Louis Osteen, Donald Barickman, and Frank Lee put a new spin on our regional cuisine. Dubbed the “spiritual general” of local chefs by The New York Times, Osteen opened Louis’s Charleston Grill in 1989, later earning James Beard’s Best Chef: Southeast in 2004. At Magnolias, Donald Barickman refined the culinary genre into “Uptown Down South,” and Frank Lee further elevated local cuisine first at Colony House and then SNOB.
The New Guard Chefs: Sean Brock, Mike Lata, Robert Stehling, & Jason Stanhope
It’s getting hard to keep count. With (at least) four nominations and six prestigious James Beard Award wins among them, Charleston’s quartet of culinary stars just keeps getting better, and it couldn’t happen to nicer guys. Robert Stehling was first out of the gate, putting Charleston and our good-for-you grits on the map when he won Best Chef: Southeast in 2008, an honor then bestowed upon Mike Lata (2009), Sean Brock (2010), and Jason Stanhope (2015). The downside is that getting a reservation at Husk, FIG, The Ordinary, or Hominy Grill is not so easy anymore. But lucky for us, the delicious camaraderie among this “new guard” results in a true desire to please their patrons and support each other, even as they up the eating ante, much to our delight.
The Conservationists: Hugh & Charles Lane
From the ACE Basin to East Edisto and beyond, the Lane brothers have quietly and persistently toiled to protect vital land, conserving some 200,000 acres of green space. “Nobody has done more for conservation in the Lowcountry,” says Coastal Conservation League director Dana Beach. Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Gaylord Donnelley Foundation—you name it, a Lane has led it. In 1993, when then-Governor Jim Hodges needed support for the proposed SC Conservation Bank Act, Hugh led efforts to get the legislation passed and the bank funded. As chairperson of the ACE Basin Task Force from its inception in 1989 until 2004, Charles blazed the trail for successful, large-scale private/public conservation collaboration, creating a model that’s emulated nationwide.
The PPPP (Polite, Proper, Progressive Preservationist): Kitty Robinson
Let’s face it: Historic Charleston Foundation is about as venerable and blue blood as it gets South of Broad—an organization as staunch as its headquarters, The Missroon House, standing guard at the crest of the High Battery. And Kitty Robinson’s consummately well-mannered and cheerful presence has been steadfast since 1984. But beyond giving house tours and garden parties and keeping the past well-polished, Robinson, who became foundation president and CEO in 2000, has brought keen insight and muscle into proactively addressing concerns that threaten Charleston’s future—mobility, gentrification, and tourism management. She knows how to get things done in this town.
The Catalyst: Mary Thornley
Boeing loves Mary Thornley. From the outset, the aeronautic giant’s expanding South Carolina footprint hinged on one thing: the assurance of skilled labor. Under Thornley’s leadership, Trident Technical College (TTC) has delivered. Her own career—beginning as an adjunct instructor at TTC in 1974, then moving up the ranks to full-time instructor; program coordinator; department head; VP for academic affairs; and since 1991, president—mirrors the path that TTC offers students: get the basics, work hard, excel. Enrollment has more than doubled (to 16,000-plus students) since 1991, as has the number of academic programs and physical footprint throughout the Tri-county. To the innovative Thornley, math is simple: education equals opportunity, so she finagles whatever it takes (short-term, skills-based training, dual-credit high school courses) to realize TTC’s mission to be “a catalyst for personal, community, and economic development by empowering individuals through education and training.”
The Hostess: Helen Hill
Hurricane Hugo packed a wallop in 1989, but when Helen Hill made landfall as the executive director of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau just a couple of weeks prior, she hit the tourism ground running, and her wind speed has yet to slow. The Charleston native has grown the office from a mere five employees and $750,000 budget to a $14-million organization with 52 city brand ambassadors. With a Category 5 smile and perpetually sunny graciousness, Hill is Southern hospitality incarnate and a marketing genius, catapulting her hometown to repeated Number 1 spots on the most coveted global and national rankings. Nearly five million visitors a year heed her call, and she’s right there with a big, warm “Welcome, y’all.”
The Harbor Pilot: Jim Newsome
As president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority since 2009, Jim Newsome keeps seeing his ships sailing in, despite shifting economic tides and occasionally choppy waters. Newsome oversees the import/export operations in Charleston, Georgetown, and Greer, which account for a $45-billion annual impact for the region and state, and counting—container volume in April was up 15 percent over last year. And he’s aggressively positioning our ports for continued growth and competitiveness, currently overseeing a $1.3-billion capital improvement plan over the next decade, which, of course, includes the controversial new cruise terminal at Union Pier. Shore power? He’s got his detractors, but Newsome’s hands stay firmly on the ship’s wheel.
The Benefactor: Martha Rivers Ingram
Martha Rivers Ingram has always had a refined ear. Back in the mid-1950s, the Vassar grad initiated classical music programming on WSCS, one of Charleston’s first FM stations (owned by her father). And now, more than half a century later, music lovers will soon enjoy much-improved acoustics in the new Gaillard Center, thanks largely to her generosity and vision. The Charleston native’s philanthropic and civic leadership locally mirrors her contributions in Nashville, where she is CEO of Ingram Industries and led the charge (and funding) for not only saving the Nashville Symphony from bankruptcy but housing it in the grand Schermerhorn Symphony Center. In addition to her support of the Gaillard Center and Gaillard Foundation, Ingram, named one of Business Week’s “50 Most Generous Philanthropists” (2010), has championed the arts as chair of Spoleto’s board and contributed significantly to the College of Charleston.
The Homemaker: Michelle Mapp
Armed with a master’s in industrial engineering, as well as in public administration, Michelle Mapp is using her considerable savvy to re-engineer affordable housing across the state. The North Charleston native and mother of two has expanded both the investment base and geographic reach of what was Lowcountry Housing Trust—now the South Carolina Community Loan Fund—to provide loans for affordable housing units and community-enhancing facilities (childcare and health care facilities, small businesses, recreation outlets) across the state. Her job is basically to help create homes for people who need them, in places they don’t exist. Since 2005 (Mapp joined in 2010), the organization has pumped more than $22 million into local communities, making home-owning a reachable goal for hundreds of families.
The Parks Ranger: Darla Moore
When Darla Moore sees room for improvement, she gets busy. The billionaire businesswoman has donated big bucks to higher education (The USC School of Business that bears her name) and to various efforts to revitalize her hometown of Lake City (including ArtFields), but locally her main influence to date is in establishing and chairing the board of the Charleston Parks Conservancy. When she bought a home here in 2002, Moore’s husband noted that the city’s pocket parks were shabby in contrast to the built environment. “Why don’t you do something about that,” he suggested. Since its founding in 2007, the Parks Conservancy has made improvements in many of the city’s 120 parks and green spaces, with their biggest project now underway, a total renovation of Colonial Lake.
The Other Joe: The Rev. Joseph A. Darby
His pulpit is frequently the op-ed page; his message the gospel truth: racial injustice remains alive and well in Charleston. Joe Darby speaks with a weighty baritone that makes you listen, even if what he says may be hard to hear. As senior pastor of 3,000-member Morris Brown AME for 13 years and now as presiding elder of 33 AME churches in the Beaufort district, he’s long been an outspoken spokesperson for racial issues, whether leading the charge for removing the Confederate flag from the statehouse or educational equity at Burke or SC State University (his alma mater). While Mayor Joe initially campaigned on improving race relations, the Reverend Joe has carried the campaign onward. His leadership with the local and statewide branch of the NAACP, with the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, and as board president of the SC Civil Liberties Union keeps civil rights issues front and center in the broader community.
The Underdog: R. Keith Summey
It hardly seems fair that the sister city to the south (Charleston) was beginning to hit its stride when Keith Summey took the reigns as mayor of North Charleston in 1994, just as his city was reeling from the crippling Naval Base closure. But today, the North Area is reaping the benefits of Summey’s steadfast vision to develop a sustainable, livable community with a revitalized Park Circle, Riverfront Park, and East Montague Business District. Crime and poverty-stricken areas remain factors, but Summey’s speedy, no-B.S. response to the Walter Scott shooting is a step in the right direction. With Boeing’s expanding presence, the Clemson Restoration Institute, and Volvo parking a plant here soon, even more technology-based jobs are on the horizon, and North Charleston is leading the region in population and economic growth.
The Level Head: Thomasena Stokes-Marshall
Mount Pleasant is no longer a snoozy, small suburb, nor are its politics sleepy, or always pleasant. But throughout her 17-year tenure as the town’s only African-American council member and longest-serving elected official, Thomasena Stokes-Marshall has been a voice of reason, speaking up for long-standing communities, many of them historically black, getting swallowed by sprawl and development. She’s advocated for the town’s sweetgrass-basket sewers and Gullah heritage, its seniors, affordable housing, and economic development. Her backbone (she’s a retired New York City detective) and wisdom has directed council’s course toward more reasonable solutions at numerous junctures. As Mayor Linda Page remarked, “Thomasena is not just a voice of diversity, she’s a voice of level-headedness.”
The Super: Nancy McGinley
For much of the last 40 years, the Charleston County School District (CCSD) has been notorious for chewing up and spitting out its leaders and failing its students (thanks to school boards that were uneven at best, incompetent at worst). Then came Dr. Nancy McGinley, who joined CCSD in 2004 and served as superintendent from 2007 to early 2015, charting a course of A+ improvement. During her tenure, student enrollment, high school graduation rates, literacy scores, and the district’s bond rating all increased substantially. She led an ambitious capital program to update and enhance campuses, and on the whole, put the rambling district (84 schools and 48,500 students) on steady footing. There was, of course, her controversial resignation/ousting in January, but McGinley’s influence is obvious in the 21st-century facilities, STEM- and literacy-focused curricula, and “excellent”-rated schools she left behind.
The Senator: Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings
Love the ACE Basin? Prefer clean oceans to polluted ones? Know anyone who’s benefitted from cancer care at MUSC? Then tip your hat to our influential, long-serving (1966–2005) United States senator, who helped secure federal designation and funding for the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge and the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve; who authored the Oceans Dumping Act (passed in 1976) and Ocean Act (2000) and brought NOAA marine labs to South Carolina; and who procured funding for the eponymous Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC, among many other progressive projects. Hollings, a Democrat who served as governor of South Carolina from 1959 to 1963, when the legislature first raised the Confederate flag over the statehouse, was among the many who called for its removal from statehouse grounds in July.
The Closer: Thaddeus Bell, MD
A four-time world champion sprinter in Masters Track and Field, Thaddeus Bell (named one of South Carolina’s “athletes of the century” by The Post and Courier) knows how to narrow a gap and hold a lead. But as a family physician; founder of a rural health clinic in Cross, South Carolina; and former director of the Office of Diversity at MUSC, he also knows how wide a gap can be—particularly the health disparity gap between whites and African Americans, who are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, and limited access to care than their white counterparts. Dr. Bell has spent his career campaigning for improved health literacy and access for minorities, including wellness and fitness programs, many of which he has personally led. From speaking out for a bike/pedestrian lane over the Cooper and Ashley rivers to giving health tips on the radio to leading youth fitness seminars, Dr. Bell is in this race to win.
The Engager: Whitney Powers
Whether pushing the envelope with sustainable, contemporary architecture; creating affordable housing that doesn’t skimp on quality or design; or advocating for progressive mobility, smart growth and inclusive public education, Whitney Powers has used her multi-pronged powers of insight to shape dialogue on urban planning issues in numerous realms. Most recently, her If You Were Mayor online community encourages citizens to chime in on key issues (transportation, education, arts and culture, neighborhoods, economy) with ingenuity. Creative, strong, wise, she’s carrying forth the vision she shared with her late husband, Edwin Gardner, for a forward-thinking historic city that embraces livability and inspires community engagement.
The Doc: Charles P. Darby Jr., MD
If it takes a village to care for a child, every village needs a Charles Darby. This Charleston native and respected pediatrician and MUSC professor emeritus was the medical muscle behind creating and developing MUSC Children’s Hospital into a nationally renowned institution, one now expanding into a brandnew facility (see “The Dreamer,” page 113). MUSC’s Children’s Research Institute—drawing international researchers and mega grants—bears his name. Through his leadership with Trident United Way’s Success-by-Six, the Boeing Center for Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles in Children and Families, Ronald McDonald House, and numerous other initiatives, Darby has championed the well-being of Charleston’s future—our children.
The Blue Notes: Leah Suárez & Jack McCray (1947-2011)
As a nexus point where African and European cultures collided and that uniquely American rhythmic concoction called “jazz” was incubated, Charleston’s musical heritage is rich indeed, and remains so due in large part to the work of the late Jack McCray and his colleague, jazz vocalist Leah Suárez. They were key visionaries who in 2007 helped establish Jazz Artists of Charleston (JAC). After McCray, a jazz historian, writer, and advocate, died unexpectedly in 2011, the indomitable Suárez, the organization’s executive director, carried on to grow the nonprofit. Today, JAC and the Charleston Jazz Orchestra offer robust programing to promote, showcase, and further the legacy of Charleston’s vibrant jazz culture.
The Channeler: Chris Kerrigan
The “united way” is Chris Kerrigan’s life philosophy as well as the name of the nonprofit he’s directed since 1998. Kerrigan has transformed Trident United Way (TUW) into a results-oriented community catalyst, one that doesn’t just raise and dole out funds but channels collective giving power to solve root problems and create measurable impact. His can-do enthusiasm has led TUW to successful campaigns year after year, with more than $8 million annually invested in direct community services benefiting thousands of Tri-county families. And the enduring benefit continues to be a United Way that brings together philanthropy, volunteerism, and activism in a cohesive and accountable manner, one mirroring Kerrigan’s passion for nonprofits.
The Entrepreneur: Steve Swanson
Back before there was PeopleMatter, BoomTown, or Blue Acorn, back before the Digital Corridor or DIG South heightened awareness of Charleston’s Silicon Harbor, Steve Swanson was, in tech speak, an early adopter, a disruptor. While a College of Charleston undergrad, he helped launch Automated Trading Desk from his garage, eventually growing it to a 119-employee hub on a sleek campus in Mount Pleasant before selling to CitiBank in 2007 for $680 million—one of the largest business transactions in Charleston’s history. He’s since donated a chunk of that back to his alma mater, where he has established numerous scholarships and is currently cochairing the college’s Boundless Campaign, working to insure the college has the resources to educate tomorrow’s innovators and entrepreneurs.
The Local: Jamee Haley
Just try taking on Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Walmart, or any of the national superstores that are cashing in on Charleston’s rising tide. It ain’t easy, but fortunately Jamee Haley is not easily intimidated. As director of Lowcountry Local First, Haley has amplified the power of local dollars to bolster independent, locally owned businesses. She has championed the little guy’s (or gal’s) big impact and puts the roots in grassroots support, literally, with LLF’s Sustainable Agriculture Initiative, home to the state’s first incubator farm. Even as King Street sprouts more franchise retailers, Haley’s passion for promoting, protecting, and expanding the uniqueness of local flavor bodes well for the Lowcountry.
The Boys of Summer: Bill Murray & Mike Veeck
Fireworks cascade over the Ashley River on most summer Friday evenings—’cause it’s baseball season, and if the RiverDogs are home, it’s time to celebrate. And there’s much to celebrate. With Bill Murray’s financial backing and Mike Veeck’s savvy promotional ploys, minor league baseball has turned into a major league player in Charleston. Beyond the rah-rah of rooting for the home team, The Joe has become a home-run venue, used for numerous community events in the off-season. And Veeck and Murray’s focus on fun is matched only by their emphasis on philanthropy, with “Dogs for a Cause” helping raise support for numerous nonprofits and the organization’s generous contributions to MUSC’s Storm Eye Institute and Charleston County schools, among others.
The Urbanist: Vince Graham
Back in 1995, initial designs for a high-density “new urbanist” neighborhood amidst the suburban cul-de-sacs of Mount Pleasant drew plenty of ire, if not outrage. But Vince Graham held tight to his vision for classic design, walkable neighborhoods, placemaking, and human-scaled development, complete with sidewalks, front porches, and green spaces for community gathering. Graham has influenced our regional dialogue on development and livability—first with I’On (which has subsequently won national awards), and then with Morris Square, Mixson, and more recently Earl’s Court in the Old Village—in often controversial ways, but his passion for embracing time-tested urban principles has helped curb unsustainable and undesirable sprawl.
The Islanders: The Guggenheim Foundation, City of Charleston, & Daniel Island Company
Legendary blacksmith Philip Simmons used to reminisce about boating to school from Daniel Island, where he grew up in the early 1920s, to Buist Academy on the peninsula. Little could he imagine that he’d live to see his remote fishing and farm village become its own city within a city that’s home to both public and private schools, an array of corporations and businesses, professional tennis and soccer stadiums, golf courses, and 3,500 well-heeled families. In 1991, the Guggenheim Foundation, which owned the 4,500-acre island, formed the Daniel Island Development Company and used the tenets of new urbanism to carefully plan the island. The City of Charleston quickly annexed the community, and in 1997, local developer Frank Brumley and Matt Sloan, from the original planning team, formed Daniel Island Company, which purchased the island and began fulfilling the vision for “Charleston’s island town.” The winner of the Urban Land Institute’s 2007 Award for Excellence, Daniel Island has expanded not only Charleston’s footprint and tax base, but the vision for sustainability and quality of life.
The Dreamer: Shawn Jenkins
As a kid, Shawn Jenkins worried that his mom wouldn’t earn enough to keep the family fed. Today, he’s traded worries for dreams, and he dreams most often of alleviating other people’s worries and improving their health and wellness. As co-founder and CEO of Benefitfocus, he’s created an innovative cloud-based solution to revolutionize and streamline the employer/insurance benefits world, so more people can worry less about their coverage. And his recent whopping $25-million gift to help MUSC realize its dream of building a new, enhanced children’s hospital means parents of sick kids, as Jenkins once was, will hopefully sleep better at night knowing their child is getting the best care possible.
The Foundation Builder: Ruth Heffron
Now she’s a landscape painter, but back in 1981, Heffron was shaping Charleston’s charitable landscape. The founders of the Coastal Community Foundation (CCF), then with a mere $21,000 in assets, hired the young protégé to amp up philanthropy in the Lowcountry. For the next 16 years, she championed the concept of aggregating and leveraging local resources to meet local needs at Rotary lunches, law firm and stock brokerage meetings, neighborhood associations, you name it. During her tenure and after, Charleston’s charitable landscape blossomed. Today, the Coastal Community Foundation uses assets valued at $220 million to serve nine counties and in 2014 invested nearly $19 million in grants to local causes.
The Defender: Dana Beach
With a deep understanding that our community is only as healthy as our environment, Dana Beach cofounded the Coastal Conservation League (CCL) in 1989. For more than 25 years, CCL’s dogged research, relentless lobbying, and smart approach to growth have safeguarded the region’s prized natural resources. One doesn’t rail against completing 526, halt Interstate 73 from plowing through the National Forest, prevent industrial hog farms from polluting our rivers, or fight to keep cruise ships from sinking our quality of life without ruffling some feathers. But Beach, recently named a “Hero of the Seas” by the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, is undeterred; he’s more concerned with protecting the feathers of nesting pelicans on Deveaux Bank and the dolphins strand-feeding on Captain Sam’s Spit.
The Tastemakers: Angel Postell & Marc Collins
In 2004, PR whiz Angel Postell and Circa 1886 chef Marc Collins started cooking up a little idea: why not showcase Charleston’s culinary scene with, say, a festival? Two years later, they launched the city’s inaugural Food & Wine Festival, now known as the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, or perhaps better known as the $9.3-million economic impact feast with more than 23,500 guests romping through the Culinary Village and associated events (2015 numbers). By all accounts, the CW+FF today has exceeded expectations, and its sweet aftertaste lingers in the ongoing national press and James Beard accolades that Charleston’s chefs and restaurants continue to receive.
The Door Opener: Michael Bennett
If Francis Marion was the Swamp Fox, then Michael Bennett might well be the King Street king. The forthcoming eight-story, 185-room upscale hotel that will soon reign over Marion Square will be the latest in Bennett Hospitality’s expanding portfolio of hotels; restaurants; and venues, including the Charleston Music Hall, that have helped transform the upper King environs into a bustling “entertainment” district. Bennett, along with his former business partner, Hank Hofford, has long been bullish on Charleston’s tourism industry, famously converting the “Old Citadel” into a swanky Embassy Suites and adding some bon vivant to John Street. His investments continue to be key to the city’s hospitable open door.
The Voice: Darius Rucker
If “influence” can be measured by the tunes we hum in the shower or the cumulative endorphin rush that occurs when the first chords of “Only Wanna Be With You” thrum through a crowded stadium, then Darius Rucker has earned his place on this Top 40 chart. As the beloved Hootie & the Blowfish front man and Billboard-topping country crooner, Rucker has become one of Charleston’s favorite sons, but his generosity to his hometown gives us all something to sing about. He and his wife, Beth, use their fame and fortune to benefit the children of this community and beyond through their volunteer leadership and financial support of the MUSC Children’s Hospital and Pattison’s Academy, among other kid-friendly causes.
The Unsung: 12 “Below-the-Radar” Influencers
Not everyone makes headlines, or wants to. But that doesn’t mean Charleston hasn’t been influenced by the determination, passion, vision, and sweat from plenty of lower-profile citizens. Here’s our nod to folks who have made a big dent in quiet ways in the realms of religion, the arts, education, natural resources, and recreation.
Fr. Francis Kline (1949-2006): Beloved musician, environmentalist, and Abbot of Mepkin Abbey from 1990 until his death in 2006, Father Kline oversaw numerous improvements at Mepkin and broadened its ministry of hospitality to the wider community.
Millicent Brown, Ph.D.: At age 15, Millicent Brown was among the first 11 African-American students to desegregate Charleston County public schools; 52 years later, the retired college history professor remains an outspoken advocate for educational equity and race relations. Her “Somebody Had to Do It” project furthers the dialogue by documenting and examining the emotional and psychological impact born by the first black children to integrate classrooms.
Jonathan Sanchez: A literary lone ranger as owner of downtown’s only independent bookstore and founder of YALLFest, Jonathan Sanchez safeguards Charleston’s literary heritage as a supporter, teacher, and promoter of local writers, young and old.
Robert Ivey (1937-2011): Dancer, choreographer, producer, teacher, and internationally respected artistic director, Robert Ivey kept Charleston en pointe during his long and distinguished career as founder of Robert Ivey Ballet and Studio, dance professor at the College of Charleston, and coordinator of Piccolo’s dance program, among numerous other endeavors.
Lese Corrigan: Artist, gallery owner, and arts ambassador, the Charleston native has championed working artists for more than 30 years, helping to establish the French Quarter Art Walks and Charleston Fine Art Dealers’ Association (CFADA) and being a steady, friendly presence in the community.
Tom O’Rourke: Head of Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission since 2001, Tom O’Rourke oversees 10,000 acres of parkland, trails, fishing piers, public beaches, horse facilities, water parks, fitness programs, you-name-it, and is aggressively pursuing more places for us to get out and play.
Michael Prevost: Forester and longleaf pine whisperer, Michael Prevost has been instrumental in protecting the Francis Marion National Forest, leveraging public and private funds to add some 13,000 acres to the forest, and conserving and safeguarding the vital green belt that provides a natural growth boundary.
Nikki Hardin & Jennet Robinson Alterman: Jennet Robinson Alterman, as former director of the Center for Women, and Nikki Hardin, as founder and former publisher of Skirt! magazine, have galvanized awareness and action on women’s issues across the region, giving voice and volume to the 52 percent.
Don Sparks & Tom Bradford: Don Sparks was the leading advocate for a game-changing bike/pedestrian lane on the Cooper River Bridge, when plans did not include one. Alongside Sparks, Charleston Moves board chair Tom Bradford has further emboldened the movement for bicycle friendliness and safety and enhanced mobility.
Local Shrimpers: Shrimp and grits would have no grit if not for Tommy Edwards, Wayne Magwood, and their fellow shrimpers, casting nets into the Atlantic to keep a culture and livelihood alive despite economic tides working against them.