On paper, they were a teacher, a doctor, a city council member and a volunteer.
But if you look at four characters our community has recently lost, they were so much more. They loved the place, with a passion. And they gave and gave and gave to others.
A common thread as they stitched our community fabric was that Donnie Beer, Alice Wright, Dianne Reynolds and Dr. Nelson Carswell Jr. were multi-taskers.
Donnie Beer loved Beaufort and the U.S. Marine Corps.
She got peeved years ago about services in her Pigeon Point neighborhood – and you didn’t want to get Donnie Beer peeved at you – and that prompted her to run for City Council.
She served for 23 years.
She was most often a voice for minding the store by keeping up what you’ve got rather than indulging in the misty vapor of visioning.
Beer was famous for being perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines at all times. Her signature was a vast array of lapel pins.
City Council member and neighbor Mike McFee said, “She’d be outside mowing the grass or trimming bushes in a silk, three-piece suit, heels and jewelry. I’d say, ‘Donnie, what are you doing?’ ”
Perhaps the only time she didn’t leave the house without full makeup and the rest were the nights she was called to the scene of burning homes as a Red Cross volunteer who would see to every need of a suddenly distraught family.
Beer volunteered three days a week at the Beaufort National Cemetery, helping families find loved ones, or maybe seeing that every grave marker like the one she will now rest beneath had a wreath at Christmas.
She loved Christmas. She had three Christmas villages, and sometimes put up three trees, as early as Halloween, said her daughter, Trish.
She could paint and draw, but her greatest artistic gift was in making Christmas decorations for her children and grandchildren.
She was chaperone for the Beaufort Water Festival Pirettes for many years, ran a local beauty pageant and judged pageants statewide.
She was a notary public who married hundreds of couples, including many Marines about to be deployed.
She directed countless wedding at Carteret Street United Methodist Church, where she was treasurer for many years. And she directed many other weddings, for a while as a business.
Beer always pulled for the military, maybe because she was a USO volunteer as a teenager, maybe because she held civil service jobs beginning at Fort Jackson in her native Columbia where she was crowned the 4th Brigade Miss Flame in 1967, or maybe because her father’s job was hauling Greyhound buses full of Marine recruits from Columbia to Parris Island.
She was instrumental in getting the Lt. Dan Band to play in Beaufort.
She loved dressing in costume to tell ghost stories for charity each fall.
Beer felt a sense of duty, and she was driven to see that things were done properly. She was a polite force to be reckoned with.
Beer died Dec. 2 at age 81. She had succumbed to dementia in recent months, Trish said, but when she and her husband, Russell, moved into Summit Place, she walked in wearing three-inch red heels.
Donnie Beer will be laid to rest Dec. 14 in the Beaufort National Cemetery.
Alice Glaze Wright was the first woman elected to the Beaufort City Council.
During part of her five-year run on council that began in 1982, she also was mayor pro tempore.
In her initial race, after a recount of her 14-vote win, election commission chairman Irvine Lausman said, “I envy you as I would someone about to be hung. I started out as a councilman, I became mayor, then I wound up with about four friends and I retired. So I know what you’re in for.”
But when she stepped down in 1987 and Dr. Tony Bush took her seat, Wright was given a standing ovation, a key to the city and a framed resolution at her last meeting.
Council member Fred Washington Jr. said, “Alice Wright has been more than a member of council, Alice Wright has been more than just a citizen of Beaufort. She has represented all of us well. She is a person all of us can see something positive in and wish we could be a lot more like her.”
Wright was known for being sensible and thinking things through, and she could push back against the strong mayor, Henry Chambers.
But Wright was best known as a teacher.
She was born in Burton, graduated from the segregated Robert Smalls High School, and earned degrees from Voorhees College and The Citadel.
She taught English at St. Helena High and Beaufort High for 20 years, chairing the department and teaching current City Council members Mike McFee and Mayor Stephen Murray.
In almost 32 years with the Beaufort County School District, she also was an assistant principal at Lady’s Island Middle School, where a colleague said she was on the “Randy Wall-Carole Ingram-Alice Wright dream team” of administrators. She retired in 1998 as the district’s director of human resources.
Wright, who died Oct. 22 at age 80 and is buried in the Beaufort National Cemetery with her husband Toby, called herself an old-fashioned teacher.
“To me, just teaching students the lessons in a book is not all-important,” she said in 1979 when she was the county teacher of the year and a nominee for the state teacher of the year.
“I want them to have confidence in themselves, to become an expressive, active part of society. I try to help them to find a proper path and to understand life and right from wrong.”
She said she lived by words in a framed poem hanging on the wall behind her desk, “A Teacher’s Prayer” by James J. Metcalf.
“For if I help the world to grow in wisdom and grace,” it reads in part, “then I feel that I have won and I have filled my place.”
Dianne Reynolds was a Bluffton Energizer bunny.
She organized the first Bluffton Christmas Parade and was grand marshal on its 50th run as a beloved town tradition in 2021.
She organized the youth football and cheerleader program now called the Bluffton Bulldogs, another institution that has touched thousands of lives since 1971.
She played the organ for several decades at First Baptist Church, and regularly played piano in nursing homes.
She and her late husband, Cecil Reynolds, helped run the polls on election day for 30 years. He was the town’s first fire chief and police chief, and served many years as the magistrate judge, his office in what is now a trendy store off Calhoun Street decorated with enormous oyster shells and photos of grisly wrecks.
In that way, Dianne was also a first-responder in a way, answering the door in the middle of the night when deputies came to have a warrant signed.
She wrote social news for several publications, including The Island Packet, and was there with her camera the night the old Michael C. Riley school burned.
Dianne Reynolds was a charter member of the town’s Rotary Club.
She was Lowcountry to the core, born a Cooler in Hardeeville, where she starred on the high school basketball team, graduated in May 1961 and was married to Cecil a month later.
Dianne died Dec. 2 at age 79 and will be buried with Cecil at the Bluffton Cemetery.
DR. NELSON CARSWELL JR.
Dr. Nelson Carswell Jr. of Dublin, Georgia, played in the first 50 pro-ams at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament in Sea Pines, and boy did his “Carswell Crew” make a splash.
His family called him “Golf Daddy” and the pro-am was a roving party around the Harbour Town Golf Links. They made special pins, koozies and banners for the big day.
Carswell had been coming to Hilton Head in his Beechcraft Bonanza six-seat plane since the days the road to Harbour Town was dirt, and he’d buzz the pro shop so they’d send someone to the air field to pick him up.
He and his wife, Betty Ann, bought the 11th condominium sold in Sea Pines, shelling out $22,500 for a place on the 10th fairway of the island’s first golf course. They later bought a home on Water Oak Drive.
When the PGA Tour event here marked its 50th edition, Carswell was treated like Arnold Palmer by director Steve Wilmot and his staff. He was interviewed by the media and rubbed elbows with the stars.
One of his favorite pro-am playing partners was Davis Love III.
When the doctor reached his 40th consecutive pro-am, Love told me why he mattered.
“He’s an example of why our tournaments are successful,” Love said. “Someone like that, who has supported our tournament for 40 years, is what makes all this happen.
“It’s hard to imagine a sponsor staying with you for 40 years, much less one individual donor. This is where the money comes from for the charities. Our (the players’) money comes from TV, but it’s the volunteers and pro-am amateurs who make the charity happen.”
The Heritage Classic Foundation, which stages the tournament, has raised $49 million for charity since forming in 1987.
Back home in Dublin, Carswell was a beloved pediatrician who treated four generations in some families in a career that spanned six decades and ended when he set aside his doctor’s bag at age 87.
But there was more to it than that for the quiet competitor who represents the best of Hilton Head Island.
A front-page story in the Courier Herald in Dublin after the doctor died Nov. 15 at age 92, cited him for leading the state’s “Stomp Out Polio” campaign in 11 counties of rural middle Georgia in 1963.
“To promote the vaccine,” the paper reported, “he once took the field before kickoff of a Dublin-Swainsboro football game to give the referees their shots.”
And in the late 1980s, Carswell’s lobbying was credited with turning the tide in a reluctant legislature to get the state’s seatbelt and child seat law enacted.
The last time I walked the 10th fairway at Harbour Town with him, Carswell said:
“I know that heaven is so much more beautiful than we can imagine. But to me, this is as close as it gets.”
David Lauderdale may be reached at LauderdaleColumn@gmail.com.