Q Tell me about the first time you came to Kiawah.
A In early 1995 a friend of mine from BMW had just transferred from Germany, and he wanted to see some of the Southern states by car. Alabama had just announced a new Mercedes Benz assembly plant in Tuscaloosa, so we decided to drive down through Mobile and come up through the Gulf states. The last stop on our journey was Kiawah. We got here after being on the road for seven days or so. Phil Patterson took us around, and it was so relaxing, so peaceful and tranquil… all I could say was, WOW., He was a real low-key, nice guy. It wasn’t much of a decision. I remember my friend telling me in his broken English, “Varren, dis must be it!”
Phil showed us a lot on Ocean Course Drive. It had a 360-degree view. You could see the ocean, The Ocean Course, and Willet Pond, along with an unobstructed marsh view. It was absolutely incredible. Typically people want to live on the ocean. Well the marsh is just as beautiful! Every once in a while, we’d see dolphins coming up Bass Creek. The pansies really got Donna’s attention.. We came from snow and ice, and here were these beautiful flowers growing. We lived there for over eleven years.
Q What about Kiawah really does it for you?
A There is an unmentioned, not often recognized fact…the people who work here on the Island are truly exceptional. Whether at the Kiawah Island Club or the grocery store or the coffee shop or the Governor’s Club, they are a cut above the rest. It’s fantastic. We know almost every employee.
Q Let’s talk about the Hunley!
A When Senator Glenn McConnell offered me the job of chairman of the Friends of the Hunley, I told him I couldn’t give it more than two days a month. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Warren, that’s more than enough time.” Well, from that minute on, it was a full-time job for nine years!
We had one of our first meetings at the Charleston Museum, and sixteen different government agencies were involved. Did you ever hear of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, where everyone was speaking in different tongues? The meeting was just like that. One person would say something, then the next person would say something completely unrelated. I realized we weren’t even at the starting gate. I spent three months of sleepless nights wondering, Why am I doing this? The first couple of doors I knocked on, I was asked, “What’s a Yankee doing raising the Hunley?” And I’d respond, “I ask myself the same thing almost every day!”
Now people ask me why the project has been so successful, and I know it’s because I ran it like a business and kept everyone focused. There were so many times when I thought, What do I know about South Carolina politics? What do I know about shipwreck recovery? What do I know about fundraising? But it all worked out. Whenever things really got tough, I made it personal and said to myself, “Those sailors have been out there for over 130 years; they’re cold, and it’s time we brought them home.” And that’s what got me through the nonsense, diversions, stress, and pressure. We started planning in 1997 and successfully raised the Hunley on August 8, 2000.
Q Amazing. And then you moved to Cassique?
A As Donna and I approached retirement age, we decided it was time to downsize. We wanted to travel more, go see the grandchildren more. We sold three houses, and when Cassique came about, you couldn’t find two bigger fans than Donna and myself.
Q Tell me about your family.
A We have four children and eight grandchildren. They love Kiawah—it’s the best place to visit. Mostly we’re in the pool or at the Beach Club or in the ocean. The kids take surf and golf lessons and play tennis— they love tennis. And they love to kayak. And, of course, Freshfields for the shopping!
Q What’s your favorite course on the Island?
A I love Cassique. The golf staff and caddy program at the Club are outstanding. They’re qualified, personable, and professional. Donna’s father often quoted this Latin saying: De gustibus non disputandum est, which translates to, “In matters of taste, there can be no dispute.” Some members prefer Cassique, some prefer The River Course, and some prefer The Ocean Course…to each his own. They are all absolutely fantastic!