Charleston, over the course of its history, has been shaped and enhanced by countless thousands of citizens — and in many different ways. That generous civic engagement is one of this city’s great legacies, and I see and feel it through the work of our citizenry every day.
Sometimes we have contributions by those who are not permanent residents but, because of their love for Charleston, for the Lowcountry and their civic goodness, special contributions are made greatly to the benefit of our community.
One of those people, a very special man, S. Parker Gilbert, died in New York City last week. Parker and his wife, Gail Gilbert, acquired Mulberry Plantation on the Cooper River, where the more than 300-year-old structure, the oldest in the Lowcountry, stands. Parker and Gail’s beautiful care and restoration of the plantation house and its grounds are a lasting gift to the people of the Lowcountry and, in fact, our country.
But the Gilberts did something even more lasting, and that is they put in conservation easements — they gave away the rights to develop over 800 acres surrounding this plantation and the banks of the Cooper River.
The protection of the Upper Cooper River Corridor has been an important preservation goal and achievement for this region. The Gilberts’ contributions to this were huge.
But that was not the only contribution that Parker Gilbert made to the Lowcountry. During the formative days of the planning and construction of the South Carolina Aquarium, I asked Parker Gilbert if he would agree to serve on the board. The mission of the aquarium greatly interested him, and he was pleased to serve. Parker Gilbert was one of the most prominent business leaders in our country.
He was chairman of the board of Morgan Stanley and had been engaged in many civic activities, including chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having someone of this stature was important for the aquarium.
Not only did he happily serve, but when I asked him if he would agree to be treasurer of the aquarium, he readily agreed as well. Having this pre-eminent business person being the treasurer was extremely important.
And Parker not only generously gave substantial leadership gifts to the aquarium, but he remained very actively and personally involved in the finances as well as the growth and progress of the aquarium, which is not only a local but a national treasure.
This very wealthy and prominent business leader was a gentle, soft-spoken, kind-hearted man. For those who had the chance to know him, that friendship was the greatest treasure of all.
This city and the Lowcountry will forever benefit from Parker Gilbert’s generosity and thoughtful civic engagement.
Joseph P. Riley Jr.
City of Charleston