I probably don’t need to tell you anything about Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. I know he had a major impact on you in so many ways. He was someone who encouraged you to take over the baseball team, was the person who encouraged you to get into politics and was the person who probably inspired you to be the public servant you became.
But his impact on me was pretty significant and still is today. He is a hero to me, someone I only wish to emulate.
Why? For starters, he has completely transformed Charleston. I remember as a kid never wanting to come downtown. If it were not for a few department stores, we probably never would have even make the trek. Dining downtown was for only major special occasions, which were few and far between.
Then came Hurricane Hugo. Like an idiot, I camped out with a group of friends in Mt. Pleasant, not knowing what was about to happen. I remember the night of the storm and the subsequent days being so scared, not knowing if I had a house, had my family or friends or had a community to live in. But I remember quickly seeing the Mayor in the news, on the TV assuring every one of the care he would take in rebuilding the city.
And that he did. After the storm, came the place! Charleston became the great city it is today. It was thoughtfully rebuilt and became the place that you (and everyone else) wanted to come and live.
Of course this was when I moved away. For college, I wanted to get away and make a name for myself. At that time Charleston was too small of a place for me and I was tired of everyone knowing me and my business. It was a great decision, but I always dreamed of coming back.
While in college and in my early career days, I still always kept up with Charleston, especially with what the Mayor was doing. And what was he not doing? He continued to rebuild Charleston, building a solid tourism base, driving cool developments like the Aquarium, re-branding and building a new baseball team and stadium, refurbishing amazing public spaces like Waterfront Park, Hampton Park, Marion Square, and on and on. He was the force behind developing a master vision for the city, one that would have a balance of charm, sophistication, history and hospitality. Every single thing great about this city, the Mayor has had a hand in. This includes the Festival.
When I moved back, the first thing I did was ask him to shadow him for a day. Unfortunately it was a challenging day for him due to some pet issues (his long time dog was very ill that day and I believe died) but he still allowed me to spend a working day with him. I then saw his magic and it was something that was imprinted in me forever.
I can sum it up in just one word–passion. The man has so much love and passion for this city, for the people, for the causes, for the challenges, for the issues…it is remarkable. He is so giving and would do anything to make this city a better place than it already is. There is no ego, no motives, no objectives other than to make Charleston the greatest city in the world.
And it is.
I consider the Mayor a friend, a mentor, a supporter and a hero. I only wish I could be half the person he is. And, I really hope that the next Mayor we have has taken the time to observe, to learn and to admire what he has done and will still do in his last few years in office.
Thanks Joe for being such an incredible person and influence in my life. You will never know how much it has meant to me.