Darla Moore brings a helping hand to the Lowcountry

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 4, 2012 

S.C. Business Leader Darla Moore speaks to the audience about the importance of business and the role that the Lowcountry plays in the S.C. economy during the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce State of the Region Breakfast at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa on Hilton Head Island on Wednesday morning.

DELAYNA EARLEY THE ISLAND PACKET

Darla Dee done good.

That's what they would say in Lake City, where Darla Dee Moore grew up in a poor, rural area of South Carolina's Pee Dee region.

The steely magnolia has done so well in the world of business that she joined former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the first women invited into the Augusta National Golf Club in August.

Moore, who spoke at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce State of the Region breakfast Wednesday, is also known for giving $70 million to her alma mater, the University of South Carolina. The business school is named for her, but that wasn't enough to keep new Gov. Nikki Haley from removing her from the USC board in favor of a campaign donor.

Moore also gave $10 million to Clemson University to honor her late father, Eugene T. "Gene" Moore Jr., who played on the undefeated 1948 Tiger football team, was an educator and coach in Lake City, and raised his blonde, blue-eyed daughter to be an athlete.

Moore's mother wanted her to play the piano, excel in school and become a nurse or teacher so she could always get a job no matter where her husband went for work, according to a 1997 Fortune magazine cover story. It called Moore "the toughest babe in business" and "a cross between the Terminator and Kim Basinger."

Maybe it will have to do that the hyper-competitive daughter, who in 10 years became the highest paid woman in banking by lapping the pool in the shark-infested waters of bankruptcies, is featured in an eight-page spread in the current Southern Living magazine for her 35-acre botanical garden in Lake City.

"From my first job in Washington with the Republican National Committee, to my banking career in New York, to my investment career with my husband, Richard (Rainwater), it's always been the case I was doing business with or competing against a room full of men," she told the island audience in a deep, Southern voice.

Moore seems to thrive on proving expectations wrong. She pointed to Lake City's national hero, astronaut Ronald McNair, killed in the Challenger explosion. African Americans from South Carolina's "Corridor of Shame" are not expected to become astronauts. And no dilapidated little town could rally around a restored string bean auction market to become a tourism destination, but that's what Moore said Lake City is doing.

Personally, Moore's golf game is a struggle. She said it took Hank Aaron 16 years to get 3,000 hits in baseball, but she did that in one afternoon on the golf course.

She was introduced to the game by her husband, who wooed her with the line, "I view you as an equity investment," according to Fortune.

As CEO of Rainwater Inc., Moore more than tripled its value. Forbes magazine says Rainwater's net worth is $2.3 billion. He played golf on Hilton Head, and his firm bought Pebble Beach. But at 68 he faces mortality, incapacitated with progressive supranuclear palsy.

And the woman known as a child as Darla Dee pushes South Carolina to see that success is up to us.

"The communities where we live and work are our communities, and we must take responsibility for their success," she told a full ballroom at the Westin. "At the end of the day, the old axiom is true. If you really need a helping hand, just look at the end of your arm."

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