111617 Honors: Outgoing mayor receives Order of the Palmetto
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Gov. Henry McMaster presents Bill Otis with the Order of the Palmetto.

Honors: Outgoing mayor receives Order of the Palmetto

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Bill Otis closed out his tenure as mayor of Pawleys Island with South Carolina’s highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto.

“It was a very easy decision to make,” Gov. Henry McMaster said at the presentation in Columbia last week.

Town Council plans to name the new Town Hall for Otis, who stepped down this week after 20 years as mayor. He received a lifetime leadership award from the Chamber of Commerce and resolutions of appreciation from the state legislature and Georgetown County Council. None prepared Otis for the governor’s arrival at a meeting of a business group meeting at the Palmetto Club. Otis and his wife were already there. Their two sons and their wives arrived just ahead of McMaster.

“It was shock after shock,” Otis said. “I was totally floored.”

McMaster said Otis’ service to the state started when he took over the family business at age 23 after the death of his father. Columbia Lumber grew from one location to five over the next 36 years and was “one of the largest privately-held building material companies in the state,” McMaster said, the kind that would qualify for incentives if it were being recruited today. “You did it the old fashioned way,” he told Otis.

Otis chaired the board of Providence Hospital and the Richland County Planning Commission. He chaired the USC Associates. He was a founding board member of the Sisters of Charity Foundation. He was a trustee of Brookgreen Gardens and a founding board member of Teach My People.

McMaster cited his work at beach preservation and beautification over two decades as mayor. “He convinced at least one governor that dunes and their preservation ought to be a statewide issue,” McMaster said. His family owns a house on the west side of Pawleys Creek. Of the town’s project to move electric and cable TV lines underground, he said, “that alone right there is enough to qualify” for the award.

McMaster quoted the late novelist Pat Conroy as highlighting the importance of the island to the state. “He said Pawleys Island is the most beautiful place in South Carolina; I envy any child who had the chance to grow up there – as you and I did,” the governor told Otis.

Given the chance to reply, Otis was brief. “A lot has happened. This is amazing,” he said.

This week, he turned over his seat at the council table to Mayor Jimmy Braswell, who asked Otis to continue to monitor the state’s adoption of new beachfront jurisdiction lines for the town. The Department of Health and Environmental Control adopted a one-year delay in implementing the lines, which had been due to take effect by Dec. 31.

The extension of state jurisdiction landward of the existing lines is estimated to have a $2 billion to $3 billion impact on property values, Otis said. The legislature is expected to review the beachfront law in the session that starts in January. “Everybody’s going to have to do their part next year,” Otis told the council.

“You haven’t quit yet,” Council Member Sarah Zimmerman told him.

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