Prior to the commencement of the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ main event in Walterboro, South Carolina back in January, I was already defending this city from its vocal (fry) haters.
Today? I’d absolutely take a bullet for its residents, who handled the recent ‘Murdaughpalooza’ circus with absolute aplomb – earning the love and loyalty of the entire nation in the process.
The ‘Front Porch of the Lowcountry’ – known for its signature red rocking chairs – rolled out the red carpet for those attending the double homicide trial of accused killer Alex Murdaugh beginning on January 23. Presented with the mother of all logistical nightmares (an O.J. Simpson-sized trial in a city several thousand times smaller than Los Angeles), court, county and city officials planned exhaustively and meticulously, implemented skillfully and consistently and improvised adeptly and adroitly.
The result of all that hard work? Justice.
Walterboro and its surrounding jurisdictions saw the Palmetto State’s ‘Trial of the Century’ through to the very end … enduring long hours, surmounting unforeseen challenges (see here and here) and performing their jobs under the most intense pressure and scalding hot spotlight imaginable.
At every step, this community and its people displayed a grace, goodness, humility and helpfulness that showcased for the nation – and the world – what true southern hospitality is all about.
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It wasn’t just the command performance given by Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill and her staff – whose exemplary administration of this trial drew rave reviews from judge Clifton Newman, from attorneys for both sides and from members of the media. Nor was it only Colleton County sheriff Buddy Hill – whose men and women distinguished themselves as witnesses inside the courthouse and as protectors of the circus enveloping it. Nor was it just Scott Grooms – Walterboro’s newly installed tourism director whose seemingly omnipresent helpfulness made everyone’s lives easier on countless occasions.
No, this was truly a community effort – one involving hundreds of people who decided individually and collectively to go above and beyond and work together in pursuit of a purpose larger than themselves. All while doing so in a spirit of servanthood that uplifted everyone around them throughout the six-week duration of these proceedings.
From the beginning, Walterboro and its people set the tone for these proceedings with their hard work, hospitality and cheerfulness. That uplifting example wasn’t just confined to the deputies, bailiffs and constables at the courthouse, either. It extended from mayor Bill Young and his team to the servers at local bars and restaurants like the Barrel House Grille or Castillo’s Pizzeria – and to local retail establishments like Twig or the Artists’ Hub of the ACE Basin (a.k.a. AHAB, home of trial artist Jean Langston).
To a person, they defined service with a smile.
It extended to the citizens of Colleton County, too. One night in late February, reporter Arthur Cerf of Vanity Fair and I were invited to the home of some Walterboro residents to watch the premiere of the recently released Netflix documentary about the Murdaugh saga.
“What do you think of our city?” Cerf and I were asked by several of the party-goers as we sampled some of their delicious homemade chili.
Both writers by trade, we were already struggling to summon the words necessary to describe the genuine endearment and respect we felt for Walterboro and its people.
“We are hope despite the times,” Michael Stipe sang on R.E.M.’s 1984 album Life’s Rich Pageant.
That is how I will always remember Walterboro, South Carolina. Hope despite the times. And a timely reminder of our innate goodness as people. At the very moment Murdaugh was hellbent on eroding our faith in humanity, the people of this community were busy restoring it.
Hill told me repeatedly before the trial that Walterboro couldn’t help the reason for the national spotlight – only how the community handled it. Well, they couldn’t have handled it any better – and I truly believe the example they set is responsible in no small part for the triumph of justice we saw last week.
Want to thank Walterboro? I hope you will join me and my family in coming “back to the ‘Boro” for the annual Colleton County Rice Festival – scheduled for April 28-29, 2023. I’ll have a more detailed preview of that event in the weeks to come, but for now be sure to mark your calendars.
Until then … thank you, Walterboro.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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