Nine-year-old William W. Mount and about 60 of his James Island Elementary School pals got the VIP treatment last Wednesday as they toured the Port of Charleston's Wando Welch Container terminal. It was a big deal for these eager summer campers - eye-popping close-up views of huge ships, huge gantry cranes, and a blur of cargo containers moving in all directions.
It would surely become a life-time memory for young William and a real connection to his beloved "Happy."
Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome even rushed from the airport to join this tour in progress, becoming the commentator-in-chief, making certain William's group saw and understood what was happening at the East Coast's most productive containership terminal. He shared the history of this terminal's development, focusing on why it was named after "Happy." That would be little William's name for his grandfather, the late W. Don Welch, a man who helped write the book on public port authority management principles.
And upon Newsome's arrival to join William and his buddies, the dots of two impressive legacies were sweetly connected, reminding all of us that legacies are works in progress, that institutions like major seaports evolve through vision and determined leadership - that good sons strive to make their dads proud, and good dads really do want their sons to be proud of them, too.
Hard-charging Don Welch was mentor to many in the challenging world of public port authority management. He was a plain-talking visionary who simply rejected with disgust the intrusions of politics into his visionary equations for port development in South Carolina. His grit and style defined his legend; his legacy is evident - the Port of Charleston is a scalable tool of commerce and economic development for all of South Carolina.
Jim Newsome's father - and Don Welch's close friend - was an equally hard-charging port operations expert at the Port of Savannah, working for the Georgia Ports Authority, Savannah Maritime Association, and the Carriers Container Council. Jim was the eager son who spent lots of time with his dad on the Savannah docks and seemed headed for a career in the maritime industry. Welch was impressed with the kid and offered a "friendly insistence" that he enroll at the University of Tennessee's school of transportation economics, Welch's alma mater and one of few schools specializing in transportation sciences.
Newsome thrived at the University of Tennessee, earning Bachelor's and Master's degrees. He then enjoyed a career of ascendency in the ocean carrier industry. He was president/CEO of Hapag Lloyd's North America operations when he was recruited to head the S.C. State Ports Authority in 2009.
Don Welch and Jim Newsome's dad worked through impressive careers into retirements, leaving their legends and legacies to be judged in the passage of years. Mr. Newsome died in 1995 at age 74. Welch died in 2009 at age 78.
They still remember the Newsome legacy at the Port of Savannah as it dominates containership markets among South Atlantic ports. The elder Jim Newsome would be mighty proud of his home port these days; but in a factoring of "legacy," he would be probably even prouder of his son who found a long and an expansive career trail in the international maritime industry.
And Don Welch would surely be proud of his Port of Charleston, but probably a bit annoyed by the systematic successes of pesky Savannah which Charleston always dominated during his tenure.
And Welch would be especially proud of young Jim Newsome, too, whom he mentored and befriended. He likely would be surprised Newsome's career arc had curved away from his home port at Savannah and brought him to Charleston to continue so many of Welch's visions and strategies
And Welch would have been grateful to Jim Newsome for making a thoughtful effort to find his grandson, William, and invite him and his pals to tour the massive Wando Welch Terminal.
Young William surely will always remember his first visit to the terminal named for "Happy". As the tour ended, he told his mother he had made a career choice: "I want to be the boss of 'Happy's' port."
Jim Newsome spent just an hour or so creating a lifetime memory for a young boy - and for himself.
And in a very special way he quietly honored the memory of Don Welch, a man whose 25-year tenure in South Carolina should be honored more than it is.
Ron Brinson is a former associate editor of this newspaper. A North Charleston city councilman, he can be reached at email@example.com.
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