As Mayor Joe Riley prepares to leave office, I feel compelled to share the observation below from 35 years ago in order to offer incentive and hope that Riley’s high standards will be upheld not only by our current mayor-elect, but also by all future mayors of the Holy City.

In the late 1970s, during those early, uncertain days of Spoleto Festival USA, I returned to the city of my birth from graduate school in North Carolina to work as a visual arts apprentice for the fledgling festival.

At that year’s Spoleto Finale at Middleton Place, as I was helping load a rental truck behind Middleton’s house museum, I happened to overhear a snippet of a private conversation.

A Charleston mover and shaker said to the mayor, “Joe, the orchestra is about to begin. Let’s head on down to the Butterfly Lakes and take our seats on the terrace. I’ll grab the cooler.” Riley replied. “No, coolers are not allowed at the concert.” The surprised gentleman of influence shot back, “But Joe, you’re the mayor!” Riley reiterated, “No, those are the rules and we must obey the rules just like everyone else. We’ll leave the cooler here.”

I believe this vignette is representative of the integrity of Riley’s 40-year magnum opus as one of America’s best mayors.

I felt, even way back then, that Charleston was lucky to have not only a young mayor of vision, but also one of strong moral principles.

As a politician, Riley has always remained a gentleman and has never been disagreeable, even to those with whom he disagreed. He adheres to the letter of C.S. Lewis’ observation that “integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Because he has always been willing to do the right thing, Joseph Patrick Riley, Jr. leaves us a city with a most auspicious future.


Parkwood Estates Drive