Opinion BY DAVID LAUDERDALE
Originally printed in The Island Packet on OCTOBER 22, 2023
Laura Bush of Bluffton quite literally got her hands dirty to deal with stunning human
needs in Beaufort County.
As a young woman, she tested stool samples that showed a high percentage of
preschool-aged children on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton were infected with
parasites – intestinal worms that would take what little protein the malnourished children were getting.
That came after helping U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings on his highly-publicized 1968 Hunger
Tour of South Carolina by finding people in Bluffton willing to host his entourage.
She recalls that the outsiders saw a child diagnosed with scurvy at one home. At
another, you could look through the wall and see the February sky.
“That got me started,” Bush says today.
It started a career dealing with human needs – working to promote safe water,
opportunity for low-income women of the Lowcountry, coordinating a county-wide
emergency program to assist families facing financial and medical hardships, and
On Oct. 7, Bush was honored with the Peggy May Inspiration Award from the Foundation for Educational Excellence “for her more than 50-year commitment to the
Lowcountry community through public service.”
They shocked Bush with the presentation at the first Lowcountry Fish & Grits Music
Festival on Hilton Head, organized by her daughter, Latrese Bush. Laura Bush, best
known for serving 26 years on the Beaufort County Board of Education, said, “I didn’t
see myself doing any of this.”
HOSPITALITY TO HEALTH CARE
College wasn’t an option for Bush, the middle child in a Bluffton family of 14 children.
Her mother was a domestic worker by day and an oyster shucker by night. Her father
was a farm worker at Belfair Plantation when it was a large cattle operation owned by
the Mingledorff family. At night, he went into the river to help feed the family. After high
school, Bush went to work in the new hospitality industry on Hilton Head, waitressing
and busing tables at the Adventure Inn and Port Royal Plantation. “I saw it as my life’s
work,” she said. “I saw nothing else ahead for me.”
She was working in the Bluffton store of Superior Cleaners when Thomas C. Barnwell
Jr. of Hilton Head walked in and asked if she could help with the Hunger Tour by
reaching out to local families. “So I did,” Bush said. And then she helped round up and
transport 178 children for a study of parasites and nutrition conducted by three
universities. Of those children, 73 percent were infected with parasites, according to
testimony in February 1969 before the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Nutrition and
Human Needs. At one time, Bush recalls, she was cited for her work as “a capable
She subsequently worked with the Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health
Services, the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority and the Beaufort County
Department of Social Services.
Today, Bush said if she could wave a magic wand, “I would make health care free for
everybody, especially workers in the service industry who don’t have benefits. It’s a
shame when people can’t pay for medicine because they don’t have enough income.”
As for education, she said, the schools need to slow down and pound the basics into children in early elementary school and not advance them until they learn basic reading, writing and arithmetic. “We need to put the same type of resources in that as we put into educating our non-English-speaking students,” she said. “Give them the most resources, the best teachers and a teacher’s aide in every class.” She said teachers today are not allowed to teach the way they did in previous generations, “when teachers really worked with you until you got it. They hammered us with math. People are rushed
now. They have 20 to 25 kids and they don’t have the time to work with them. It’s very
The Foundation for Educational Excellence was established in 2007 to support the mission and goals of the Beaufort County School District. It has awarded over $300,000 in grants to students and to teachers for classroom innovations and resources. It sees Bush’s story as an inspiration for today’s students. “My steps were ordered by God,” Bush said. “I didn’t see it. He was there.”
David Lauderdale may be reached at LauderdaleColumn@gmail.com.
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