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Arts: Brookgreen Gardens president will retire at end of the year

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Bob Jewell plans to leave as president and CEO of Brookgreen Gardens at the end of the year.

“I was retired and came over here looking for a part-time job,” he said. “I absolutely love Brookgreen. It’s become part of my life.”

Jewell, 68, will celebrate his 12th anniversary as president and CEO in July, “which is amazing,” he said. He had worked for HomePlace of America and Federated Department Stores and took an early retirement. He and his wife, Toni, settled in Wachesaw Plantation.

Now, they want to spend more time with their grandchildren — a fourth is expected in June — in Arizona and California. “We’ll be out there part of the year,” Jewell said. “Toni is out there quite a bit already.”

Jewell said he plans to stay involved in the Georgetown County community. He is a former member of the county school board.

During his 12 years, Jewell said Brookgreen has moved its mission forward in every component: sculpture, horticulture, the zoo and forest management. “That has been our primary focus,” he said, “to move that mission forward. Underneath that, you have to have the fundamentals of financial stability. That was something we didn’t have, so in conjunction with moving the strategies forward we have a clean balance sheet and positive cash flow. The financial fundamentals are better.”

Dalton Floyd of Murrells Inlet, a Brookgreen trustee, said Jewell brought business experience to the job. “He is an excellent manager of people, and we needed that because Brookgreen Gardens is a big business in addition to sculptures and gardens,” Floyd said. “He’s dramatically increased the number of visitors, members and revenues each year. At Nights of a Thousand Candles, people are coming from all over.”

Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis was a board member until last year and said the changes have been dramatic during Jewell’s time at the helm.

“Brookgreen has gone from being an insular sculpture garden to being a major treasure of our coastal community,” Otis said. “Bob is responsible for almost every outreach into the community that Brookgreen has done.”

Jewell said Brookgreen enjoys a broader appeal today. The gardens will open a display of Lego sculpture March 5 that has proven a big draw in other locations. “We want to make sure people understand that Brookgreen Gardens is here for all people,” he said. “I’m not sure that was the image of it for awhile. We want people to enjoy it. That’s the vision the Huntingtons had: to make it available for people. I’m proud of the staff and the volunteers for all the things we’ve accomplished, because we’ve accomplished a lot.”

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