Brightwell leaving museum | News | The Press and Standard

by | May 11, 2017 8:40 am

By GEORGE SALSBERRY

gsalsberry@lowcountry.com

Colleton Museum and Farmer’s Market Director Gary Brightwell is looking forward to a career change — she is setting her sights on being a “dedicated piddler.”

Brightwell is set to retire from the museum on June 2, leaving a post she has held since 2008.

Brightwell admits to being “an organizer and a planner,” the antithesis of the dedicated piddler.

“Piddling is what I call it,” Brightwell said. “Just walking around, redecorating a little corner of my house, sitting down awhile and reading a book, watching a TV show, going outside and taking a walk, playing with my dog. That’s just piddling.”

Piddling, she admits, “would be a very new experience. I really don’t know how to piddle. I just think I want to piddle.”

She knows it is going to take some time and training. Fortunately she has some friends who are dedicated piddlers, and other friends who, like her, want to try their hand at piddling.

“Maybe I will loosen up just enough so I can wake up one morning and go, ‘I think I’ll go to the movies today.’ Just waking up in the morning and deciding what I am going to do would be a new experience. I have never had that experience. I have worked forever.”

Piddling isn’t the only thing on her retirement agenda. “I have a list of 187 books that I want to read. I am not kidding.”

Then there are the two singing groups she’s in — The Voices of Colleton and the Grace Notes. “Now I will have more time to practice.”

There are the Bible studies and time with her husband.

As she prepares to leave the museum, Brightwell said she will “miss the people who come in here and my employees. We have a good time together.”

And she will miss the moments like the one she had last week.

Charles Williams from Columbia visited the museum, wanting to share his story. Williams, originally from Walterboro, had attended a small, all-black Catholic school on Gruber Street back in the 1950’s. “I didn’t even know it existed,” Brightwell said.

Williams’ mother had amassed “all these wonderful photographs.” The school, she said, “had a wonderful history.”

The items Williams provided will become a future exhibit. “That is the type of thing that sets me on fire doing this job.”

As director, she explained, much of her time has been absorbed by administrative tasks. “I have not been able to really sink my teeth into the history, which is what I really love.”

Brightwell, who was born in Greenville and grew up in Pickens, moved to Walterboro with her husband Charlie, in 1976.

Charlie had been working in Columbia and it appeared that the family was going to have to move to Fayetteville, N.C.

“I really did not like the sound of that,” Brightwell said.

An unexpected job offer for Charlie lured them to Walterboro instead.

She was happy. Walterboro was about the size of Pickens. “I had a great childhood there,” she said. Walterboro seemed like a good place for their two sons, Chad and Drew, to grow up.

Chad is in Greenville with his wife, Julie, and their three children and Drew and his wife, Lee, have one child and live in Irmo.

Retirement will see the grandparents making regular visits.

Brightwell said as she moves into retirement, “I won’t miss the paperwork. I will not miss working on Saturdays.”

When Brightwell became director of the Colleton Museum, it was crammed into a small space in the old Jail Building. Approximately three years later, the Colleton Museum was linked with the Farmer’s Market and housed in an East Washington Street facility that has since been recognized on the state and federal levels for its innovation in both design and function.

“As I look back, I can’t even believe what we have done,” Brightwell said. When she moved from assistant director of the Colleton Memorial Library, a post she held since 1996, to the museum, she explained, “I went into this job thinking my pace is going to slow down. I’m in a small place, but I can do a lot of things with it.”

Before joining the library staff, Brightwell was the librarian at Colleton Prep and served as an interim director of the South Carolina Artisans Center.

In her first few years as museum director, Brightwell said there was some talk about moving the museum to another location “but nothing concrete.”

Then Colleton County Council hired Kevin Griffin to be the county administrator. “I had known him as a younger man, when he was here before and when he was at Clemson,” Brightwell explained.

After a few days on the job, Griffin came to the museum for a visit. “We started talking and he said, ‘You need a bigger space.’ I said “I know.’”

Carla Daddieco, working in the county administrator’s office at the time, mentioned the East Washington Street building was available that had been bought to house the offices of the Clemson Extension Service inside and the new farmer’s market outside.

When the economy took a nosedive, Clemson downsized the local extension office to cut costs and the planned move was scrapped.

“Forces just started moving and we had wonderful, wonderful support from Colleton County Council,” Brightwell said. “Kevin was a visionary leader for this project.”

“We just went to work. It had to be done and we did it. We had a lot of help from a lot of community members.” The list of volunteers, she added, “was endless.”

“I always say it was a miracle,” Brightwell said, “I’m not quite sure how it happened.”

Brightwell now had a larger museum and a farmers market to oversee. Next came the Colleton Commercial Kitchen, “another of Kevin’s brainchildren.”

“I was pretty scared about the kitchen; I didn’t have a clue,” Brightwell said. Even though she was apprehensive, she took on the task.

“I always like to think of myself as a soldier of the county and what I am told to do, I really try hard to do it.”

It came together, she said, because she had a great staff and great volunteers. Throughout the entire process, she said, she has been able to work with “people with vision. That was just what I needed at the right time.”

“I did keep lucking out,” Brightwell said. “That is why I call it a miracle.”

In the future, Brightwell said, she sees the museum “moving forward to greater and brighter things in the future.”

“I have been fortunate enough to be part of the beginning of it and lend whatever skills I had to the beginning. Now it is time for someone else to take over the reins,” she said.

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