Oprah's send-off

Hurricane Hugo devastated the South Carolina coastline and inland communities in September 1989. Mayor Joe Riley appeared with Oprah Winfrey during her show from Charleston.

Holli Hartman // The Post and Courier

Phillis Mair (left), owner of Patat Spot Friet and Falafel on George Street, and restaurant manager Corey Deussing, watch the next-to-last Oraph show on one of several televisions in the store Tuesday.

When rabid Oprah Winfrey fan Phillis Mair wanted time off from waiting tables last year to fly to Chicago and see a show get taped, her boss wasn't too pleased.

"Long story short, she fired me from my $2.13 an hour job the week before," she said.

Mair took her trip anyway, where under the bright studio lights the reigning queen of daytime TV talk gave an inspirational pep talk that stuck.

"I know this is a big dream for some of you, to see the 'Oprah Winfrey Show,' " the TV empress told her audience. "But I have one thing to say ... dream bigger."

Mair accepted the dare and a year later she and her husband, Jeff, are running one of Charleston's hottest new restaurants.

In recognition of Oprah's final sign-off, Mair will offer a 10 percent discount on supper to anyone wearing anything "pro-Oprah" today inside her Patat Spot Friet & Falafel restaurant on George Street.

Whatever the financial loss from the celebration, it will be worth it. "This shop only came about because of Oprah," she said.

Oprah's final show, which airs at 4 p.m. today on WCBD-TV, will be shown inside the restaurant on two high-definition TVs. All fans are welcome, Mair said.

Beyond the numerous send-off parties and gatherings expected around the Lowcountry, when Winfrey does say goodbye for the last time after 25 years on the air, the impact of her show can arguably be traced back to tens of thousands of South Carolinians who either were directly influenced by her or who personally shared family stories, crime tragedies or their business dreams.

A sampling: Unsuccessful Citadel cadet Shannon Faulkner chose Oprah to tell her story of the five days she was at the school.

Local fitness advocate Louis Yuhasz was among 300 "Everyday Heroes" invited to attend a taping.

Mayor Joe Riley got a "shout-out" in 1989 when Oprah brought her show here in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.

And up the road in Columbia, Barack Obama basked in her glow as some 30,000 people showed up for a political rally at Williams-Brice Stadium that cemented what would become a blow-out victory for the future president in the 2008 South Carolina Democratic primary.

"She is a woman without color," Vicky Olson of Mount Pleasant, a volunteer with the Obama campaign, said at the time of Winfrey's appeal across racial lines.

"She is not a political person," Olson continued. "She is someone coming out and speaking from her heart. She speaks about things that are meaningful to all of us. I don't feel she is a celebrity. She is more than that. She is family."

There was also the South Carolina story Winfrey couldn't get. Prior to taking over in the Governor's Mansion, Gov.-elect Nikki Haley refused to give Susan Smith a chance to tell Oprah's nearly 6 million viewers what life is like behind bars for killing her two young sons.

During much of her early days on TV there were persistent rumors that Winfrey loved Charleston's restaurants and was looking to buy a downtown mansion. The talk, though, never bore fruit.

One rumor that does ring true is that she did take part in the Cooper River Bridge Run.

The year was 1994 and she ran under the pseudonym "Francesca Kincaid," a cover that was widely thought to be a morphing of the names of the two main characters from the novel "The Bridges of Madison County."

She finished in a respectable 55:48 that year, or about the length of her last show.