Dianne Reynolds was a stalwart supporter of the Bluffton community’s activities, whether sports, music or just fun. COURTESY THE REYNOLDS FAMILY

Don’t let anyone tell you Dianne Reynolds was from Hardeeville. For those who knew her, she was Bluffton through and through – a pillar of service to others and to setting the example of community giving that our town is so proud of.  

Her death on Dec. 2 – just 11 days before her 80th birthday – has saddened the holidays for many long-time Blufftonians, but her contributions to the fabric of this town will be revered for generations to come as many a nonprofit CEO strives to clone her work-ethic DNA.

Her husband of close to half a century, Cecil, was more of the front-facing member of the Reynolds team, serving as a Beaufort County magistrate for 24 years, as well as on the Beaufort County Council, and as both police chief and the town’s first fire chief.

Dianne was the one behind the scenes who got stuff done, made things happen and made sure they were done well. 

Yes, she graduated from Hardeeville High School, a basketball team member and a leader in many school clubs. Reynolds was a devoted wife and mother, a stay-at-home Mom – her proud profession as she raised her sons, Michael and Marshall, at their Alljoy Beach home.

When the boys hit high school, Reynolds became an unstoppable force for good in Bluffton and the Lowcountry. 

One of her first large-scale projects was organizing the town’s first-ever Christmas parade in 1971. Then-mayor Grady Messex leaned on Reynolds to create a gathering that celebrated everything good about the town and gave the kids a chance to strut their stuff and get some face time with Santa.

“It was such a joy and a point of pride to have so many dignitaries visit Bluffton and be part of the parade,” Reynolds told me for a 2021 profile. “We had all the Scouts marching – Cub, Boy and Girl. We had kids wrapped as gifts, antique cars, horse and buggies. Grady wanted something to be proud of, and I took that as an honor and a sacred responsibility.”

Reynolds said she must have sent 1,000 invites to politicians and state leaders through the years. Brantley Harvey was the first parade grand marshal. He went on to become the state’s lieutenant governor in 1975.

“I mean, who wouldn’t want to come for a stay by the May, take in the Lowcountry and celebrate the holidays,” Reynolds said rhetorically of her persistent invites. “David Beasley was part of the parade before he became Governor. Strom and Nancy Thurmond came down every year and were so appreciative to be included,” Reynolds said, acknowledging that even though he opposed the civil rights movement and supported racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, he was a devoted public servant. “He pushed for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday to be a federal holiday. That was the Strom I knew.”

The event, as we know now, became a town staple and Reynolds served as its organizer through 1975 and volunteered on the parade into the early 1990s. She was named the parade’s grand marshal for its 50th edition in 2021.

Reynolds became a strong advocate for youth sports in the town, believing Bluffton’s athletes needed a specific outlet to showcase their talents – not just as part of a Hilton Head Island or regional squad. She was the brains behind the creation of the Bluffton Crusaders in 1971 (which later evolved into the Bluffton Bulldogs).

Churchgoers would also get to know what her friends and family had known for decades – that Reynolds was a bit of a musical savant when it came to the piano. She took lessons as a toddler, but her teachers quickly realized she could play most anything by ear.

“I liked to play the classical music, but I would slip in some jazzier tunes or more modern sounds from time to time,” Reynolds said. She got the chance to showcase her skills publicly as the pianist and organist at First Baptist Church, a gig she held down for three decades.

“I loved playing classical and church music, it was such an honor. But I’ll tell you what, when I got home, I loved pop and rock music,” she said. “Barry Manilow, Elton John, their talents seemed superhuman to me. I’d often close my eyes, listen to Monty Jett’s radio show and just dream of playing with Sir Elton.”

Her friends used to marvel at her endless energy for community endeavors. For 25 years through the mid-1990s, if an organization asked for help, Reynolds was there. And then, she’d usually turn around and write about the events in her woman-about-town column for a local publication.

She was especially passionate about the local political scene. She and Cecil were fixtures as election volunteers, and Dianne was a strong voice in four different area Republican clubs and the League of Women Voters. 

“I would say she was the godmother of politics,” said her long-time friend state Rep. Bill Herbkersman. “She was everyone’s friend and her and Cecil would make everyone feel like they were somebody.”

The simplest way to describe Reynolds? She was a doer at a crucial time in the town’s history where Bluffton needed doers.

“Bluffton Self Help has received many donations in her honor, which speaks to how important she was in our community,” said Courtney Hampson, CEO of the organization.

Whether it was Meals on Wheels, the Red Cross, the Bluffton Rescue Squad or picking up trash along May River Road, she was usually either first in line or coordinating the line. 

Reynolds devoted more time to Cecil at the turn of the century straight through to his death in 2010. She was recognized by the state senate in 2008 as the Senior Citizen of the Day for her endless efforts to help others.

Reynolds had a love-hate relationship with those kind of honors. 

“I appreciate the recognition, it’s nice to be seen. But it also is a lifetime achievement medal, like they’re putting you out to pasture,” Reynolds said. “We all have to slow down, but I never want to stop giving back.”

Reynolds knew she was getting close to seeing Cecil again when we talked in August 2021. When asked how she’d like to be remembered, she smiled and said she had the response down to a tidy little soundbite.

“I showed up. You have to show up for your community if you care,” she said. “And I cared. And I always showed up.”

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. timwood@blufftonsun.com.