Bluffton-born Fred Hamilton’s family originated on Spring Island, off Highway 170 toward Beaufort. Growing up, the industrious entrepreneur lived on Buck Island, Simmonsville and Goethe roads under the watchful eyes of the whole community.
“When I grew up, everyone was your parents, whether you were 10 miles away or two minutes away. They didn’t even have phones then. It was like being in a village,” Hamilton said. It was as if all the parents had a mental telepathy network: “Everyone was responsible for you.”
The oldest of four – two boys and two girls – he became part of that watchful community, much as he is these days as a member of the Bluffton Town Council.
“I was very advanced as a kid. I felt like I had the responsibilities of making sure they were OK,” he said.
That included finding ways to have fun.
“We used to make our own toys. We spent time building tree houses and tunnels. We built a pool table, slingshots, bicycles,” said Hamilton. “We were very creative in trying to find ways to entertain ourselves.”
One of his earliest memories was spending time with his great-grandparents and grandparents, eventually moving in with his mother’s parents.
“They always were more outgoing and I think I liked adventure as a young man,” he said. That included doing a lot of crabbing and fishing with his granddad.
His mother, Evelyn, worked a variety of jobs while he was young, but mostly spent time as a housewife while his father worked as an oysterman. Those experiences around the water influenced his favorite foods.
“My mother was a good cook but I’ve always loved seafood, even to today. My favorite is anything the May River produced,” Hamilton said. “I have no favorites. I love it all.”
Much like playing in the river and along the streets of Bluffton, Hamilton remembers his teachers at Michael C. Riley Elementary and McCracken High Schools as an extension of the “village.”
“I remember teachers being my second parents, if you will. They always were dedicated to making sure of our well-being,” said Hamilton, who did well in science and math but was not as strong in English. “They took their jobs very seriously.”
Hamilton said he was very athletic in high school, playing football as a defensive back and a receiver, playing outfield and second base on the baseball diamond, as well as some basketball. Even when he wasn’t playing in school, he’d participate in pick-up games.
That interest in sports continued when he went into the Army in 1977, when he played running back for his unit’s team.
Hamilton served from 1977-81, working in computer technology on radar and computers stationed in Oklahoma, Germany and finally at Hunter Army Airfield when he transitioned out of the service.
“I was a father in my teens, so I had to make money fast, and that seemed like the way to go,” he said. “I’ve been self-employed ever since I got out of the Army, working home maintenance, landscaping, owning a music and stereo shop, and a car dealership.”
Currently, Hamilton is an independent car dealer and continues to do home maintenance work.
Much as he did as a youth, Hamilton continues to hold the “village” mentality. As a member of the town council, he is currently serving in his fourth term and is Mayor Pro Tem.
“Bluffton has changed and I’d like to preserve some of the culture that we have. It’s definitely not the Bluffton of the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s anymore, but at this point my focus is to make sure that as we grow, we do it smartly,” Hamilton said. “Family is important to me. I have lots of family throughout Bluffton, one of the key reasons for wanting to be here. I want to be the difference for everyone in Bluffton. I want to have the opportunity to be their voice.”
His main concerns are preserving the town’s unique culture while it grows, increasing affordable housing opportunities and giving young people reasons to live and work in their hometown.
“I also wanted to encourage my kids to want to remain here. However, both of them moved on to other places because opportunities were more accessible for educated young adults. They found more opportunities elsewhere at the time,” he said. “I think that’s something we could have done better earlier, but we’re adjusting that now.”
As a native Blufftonian, Hamilton wants to make sure that there are other long-time Bluffton voices at the table for balance with newcomers.
“We need to be looking back and looking ahead almost at the same time to make sure that we appreciate some of the things that we have grown used to. But we also have to make sure that we protect the things that most people find to be of interest that makes them come to Bluffton,” Hamilton said. “Sometimes we get in a place where we love what Bluffton has to offer but we lose track, and miss a few things that we had in the metro areas. If there’s not someone there to remind us about those values, we could very easily lose it and then regret it. We don’t want to be Somewhere Else, USA.”
In comparing Bluffton to other places that he has visited, Hamilton said he didn’t want to lose the things that made it special, like the May River. Many other places he has seen either did not have the rich resources Bluffton has or lost them.
So why does he stay here?
“I visited a lot of different places traveling throughout my career,” said Hamilton. “I always wanted to get away from Bluffton, but I realized that Bluffton was so unique from all the other places that I really wanted to be home. Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.