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From hospitality to health care, a Lowcountry ‘inspiration’

Updated: Mar 20


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

pushing education.


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.”


Laura Bush standing with her family at the Lowcountry Fish & Grits Festival on Hilton Head Island, SC
Left to right: Son - L J (Leon Bush, Jr), daughter - Latrese Bush, Laura Bush, daughter – Elizabeth Bush-Swinton, granddaughter – McKenna Swinton



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

colored woman.”


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


Read more at The Island Packet by clicking HERE.


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