Letters to the Editor

14 mins read

Close encounters with Conroy

For many years I worked at publications in Beaufort, and my job as editor of The Island News afforded me the opportunity to write about events that author Pat Conroy attended and to admire him and his literary talents from a close distance.

Author Pat Conroy, right, was taking a break from signing books to watch the Water Festival Parade along Bay Street in 2011.
Author Pat Conroy, right, was taking a break from signing books to watch the Water Festival Parade along Bay Street in 2011.

The news of his passing earlier this month saddened legions of fans across the nation who felt connected to this talented writer through his passionate prose and gift for storytelling. And as a Beaufortonian who experienced first-hand his role as a champion for the Lowcountry and our beautiful little town, I felt an intense sorrow too. But I recalled my encounters with him with sweet fondness.

My first memory of meeting Pat Conroy involved me covering a parade in downtown Beaufort for the paper. I was taking pictures of floats and families, and as I passed the locally owned McIntosh Book Store on Bay Street, I noticed a table set up outside. Conroy and fellow local author John Warley were signing books for enthusiastic passersby.

I lingered around, looking for a chance to take a photo, but Conroy got up to watch the parade. He was talking to the owner of the bookstore, and I debated whether to say something (and not sound like an idiot) and finally gathered the courage to introduce myself. He was friendly and personable and I still remember trying to contain that giddy feeling inside that was screaming: “PAT CONROY IS TALKING TO ME! HE EVEN READS OUR PAPER! DON’T FREAK OUT. JUST BE COOL!! THIS IS SO COOL!”

I asked to take a picture for the paper, and he willingly agreed and was pleasant. While this might sound like the anecdote of a star-struck young journalist — which, admittedly, it is — I would like to think of it as a testament to his character as someone who, despite his worldwide fame, was generous with his time and had a kindness and sense of humor that made him beloved by those who were fortunate enough to meet him, however brief.

While the contributions Pat Conroy provided to Beaufort — from supporting local artists to helping preserve the area’s natural environment — deserve recognition, my second story may pale in comparison to his lasting accomplishments, but it is intended only for comic relief.

Every week at The Island News, the staff would have lunch at a local eatery and then I would write about it in a column called “Lunch Bunch.” Among the many awesome restaurants in Beaufort, Griffin Market stands alone for its authentic northern Italian cuisine and an exceptional dining experience. It was well known that this was one of Pat Conroy’s favorite restaurants in town. He even wrote a lengthy article about it in another local publication; of course it was amazingly crafted and, really, what more publicity could a small business ask for than to have Pat Conroy not only vouch for, but heartily endorse, your restaurant?

Not long after his article ran, the Lunch Bunch was invited to dine at Griffin Market. As the person writing the review, I felt pressure for two reasons:

One, to try to accurately describe how seriously delicious and memorable the food is within a short amount of space.

And two, because pretty much the only other person who had written about that restaurant was Pat Conroy. The absurdity of this is not lost on me.

As if this pressure as a novice writer wasn’t enough, on the day we ate there, at a large table nearby sat Pat Conroy with a group of family and friends. It was a humorous predicament to be in: Small town newspaper editor and young mom (yes, I brought my 8-month-old daughter with me to this intimate, upscale restaurant) versus this best-selling author and iconic figure of the literary world. I have no illusions about comparing my article to his, but I still laugh when I think of the whole situation.

After hearing similar stories from friends and colleagues documenting memorable interactions with Pat Conroy, I hope the fact he was the source of so many treasured tales would make this master storyteller smile too.

 Pamela Brownstein

Is the sky really falling?

In preparation for the development of The Village at Oyster Bluff the property was clear cut of timber, Walmart, Harris Teeter, probably a Taco Bell and other similar businesses are coming to Lady’s Island.  Each of these will involve site preparation and to varying degrees the removal of trees and will impact traffic.  All of these projects are signs that growth, both commercial and residential, is returning to Lady’s Island and the Beaufort area.  Is life, as we who live on Lady’s Island presently enjoy it, doomed to extinction by this growth?

Before delivering a eulogy for our community perhaps we should pause and look at where we have been and what has been done in preparation for this and future growth.   For example, the present zoning for Lady’s Island was specifically designed for the island by the Community Preservation Committee and became law in 1999.  Over the next 15 years that zoning guided the construction of 1,511 new homes and the arrival of almost 4,000 new residents to the island. Lady’s Island was the fastest growing residential area in northern Beaufort County.  However, it was not the fastest growing commercial area due to sky rocketing prices of commercial property in the Village Center.

Today, zoning wise, the 14,000 acres of Lady’s Island is divided into 4 primary areas- 28% (4000 acres) is Community Preservation or residential (2 units per acre), 14% (2000 acres) is designated for existing Planned Unit Developments, 46% (6,500 acres) is Rural which allows one unit per 3 acres, 3% (451 acres) is commercial and 5% (over 700 acres) is under some form of conservation easement denying or limiting development.  This zoning will allow growth but even with the fastest rate of growth ever experienced on Lady’s Island it would take over 20 years for the island to reach anywhere near its capacity. Simply stated, the basic zoning that has been in place since 1999 has stood the test of intense residential growth. Can it be improved – certainly and should be in response to identified problem areas such as posed by the clear cutting of the Village of Oyster Bluff and the new Walmart site with its 20,000 truckloads of fill dirt. But the basic zoning of Lady’s Island has proven to be tested and valid.

The arrival of businesses such as Walmart and Harris Teeter on Lady’s Island is going to happen and with their arrival, regretfully, we will lose some forest and natural wildlife habitat. Walmart, Harris Teeter and other similar national commercial businesses are going to continue to be attracted to Lady’s Island by the 13,000 homes, with an average household income of $71,882, located within a 5 mile range of the commercial portion of the island.  As a result of these and similar demographics new businesses are going to seek to establish a presence on Lady’s Island. In most cases they will be allowed to do so, not because of incompetence on the part of planners or a lack of moral fiber on the part of elected officials, but rather for the simple fact that, as a general rule, we do not attempt to pick and choose which type of businesses may be established in the commercially designated portion of Lady’s Island.  However, we can establish better and more enforceable rules and regulations for such things as to what these new businesses will look like (design and style), where they can be located in regard to the road and amount of allowable impact on existing roads and the environment.

With this new interest in Lady’s Island by national retailers and developers we (county and City of Beaufort) are going to have to revisit the manner in which we authorize and permit the construction of their buildings and developments.   As H. G. Wells said “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” What we have today that we did not have in the past is the fact that, thanks to the Northern Regional Plan, we no longer suffer from the annexation wars and the county and municipalities do work together on matters such as saving our natural assets while still allowing growth. In the effort to save and protect those qualities that make our community special we will lose battles (Walmart) which will require modification of existing ordinances to preclude future similar losses. But with the most tested zoning and regulations of any general area in northern Beaufort County, elected officials who communicate and work with each other, a municipality that will work with us and a community that strongly supports saving those qualities that make Lady’s Island special it is entirely too early to have discussions as to having reached the end of life, as we presently enjoy it, on Lady’s Island.  The sky is not really falling but growth is returning and we do have to adapt to the new challenges which this growth brings with it.

Jim Hicks
Lady’s Island Community Preservation Committee

What’s in a name?

Whether it is called a Recycling Center or lovingly called the “Garbage Dump” it is what I found to be for me, and many others who visit this Lady’s Island location, a treasure.

Delores Nevils (left) at the Lady's Island Recycling Center/the "Garbage Dump."
Delores Nevils (left) at the Lady’s Island Recycling Center/the “Garbage Dump.”

Particularly for two ladies named GaGa and Snooks. They look forward to going there on the days when they go shopping.

When they get phone calls from people they know, they are asked “What’s going on in Beaufort?” They reply, “The most exciting thing going on is we’re going to the garbage dump where people of all colors and races talk to one another, exchanging coupons and recipes, and generally have a nice time together.”

The workers make sure that we go to the right bins for disposal. And we want to applaud these hard working, under-appreciated, county workers and let it be known that all good work should be respected and appreciated. And that GaGa and Snooks are not these ladies real names, but as they are serenaded by the music of jazz musicians playing among the discarded, the masquerade is over for GaGa and Snooks after these wonderful workers read this letter.

Delores Nevils
St. Helena Island

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