Despite early tragedy, Hilton Head Island man has happy, fulfilling life

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comAugust 26, 2013 

Rosalie Zavin with her son, Herbert.


    Email David Lauderdale at

Thanks to the Belton-Honea Path News Chronicle in the Upstate for sharing a Lowcountry story that few people know.

The story is by Charles "Charlie Bill" Martin, who writes a column in the newspaper called "A Life Well Lived."

"Herbert L. Novit, his life well-lived"

By Charles "Charlie Bill" Martin

A Belton News story on March 5, 1936, announced that Mr. and Mrs. Harry Zalin of Walterboro would move to Belton the following week to open a dry goods store.

Two weeks later an advertisement was published that proclaimed the grand opening of Zalin's, where "Cash Buys Cheaper."

Grand opening specials included: ladies' rayon undies, panties and bloomers, 23 cents; ladies' wash dresses, 95 cents; men's shorts, 19 cents; overalls, 89 cents; and men's socks, 9 cents.

And so, the Zalins settled into the Belton mercantile establishment and melted into the community as well-regarded locals.

In the spring of 1937 Rosalie Zalin (nee: Lipsitz), great with child delivered the couple's first born -- a son they would name Herbert.

With the country in deep depression Rosalie helped out at the store as much as she could. When little Herbert was a few weeks old she began bringing her baby to the store so she could both help and see after the needs of the child.

And then came the horrible news as described by an article June 17, 1937:


Mrs. Harry Zalin, 22 years, was killed in one of the most distressing accidents ever to have occurred in Belton, Wednesday evening at 6:45 when she was crushed by an automobile which had jumped over the curb and crashed across the sidewalk into a plate glass window.

Mrs. Zalin had just finished dressing the store's show window and had stepped out onto the sidewalk, baby and carriage in tow, to assess her work.

When she saw that big black car looming toward her -- and using a mother's best instincts -- she pushed the carriage out of harm's way, saving the child ... but losing her own life.

It was a ghastly sight on the square in Belton, a lifeless mother's body lying among shards of glass and bricks, but little Herb was blissfully unaware of the fate that had befallen his mother.

The distraught father gamely carried on the business for a few months through the back-to-school and Christmas sales and into the spring.

In April of 1938 Harry Zalin had a going-out-of-business sale, gathered up the shattered remnants of his life and left Belton, a scant two years after coming here with such high hopes.

With the passage of time the incident was mostly forgotten.

And now, as radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, "The Rest of the Story."

Fast-forward with me now to one summer a few years back, which found me strolling down the streets of downtown Beaufort. I happened upon an old-time department store with the front door open to the fresh air. Inside, there was an old couple -- apparently the owners. By happy chance I found myself chatting with Joe and Lucille Lipsitz.

Lipsitz Department Store was one of the oldest stores in Beaufort, having recently celebrated its 100th birthday. Joe had been born in the family apartment over the store.

The place had the smell of age, the smell of fabric, the smell of old leather; and the smell of an oiled wooden floor. An old sign advertised Red Goose Shoes for children.

The old store owner, learning I was from Belton, exclaimed, "That's the town where Mrs. Zalin was killed!"

He described the incident just as it had been told to me, down to the fact that the 2-month-old son had survived.

So, what happened to the child?

Did Joe Lipsitz know?

The answer came with a twinkle in his eye, "He's a prominent, practicing attorney on Hilton Head."

There the conversation ended.

Just in the past few weeks I began to wonder, could I find the Zalin son? Was he still living? He would be about 76 years old. Could I talk to him about his life after his mother's death? Would he even want to talk about it?

But, there is no Zalin listed among Hilton Head lawyers. In the search for the story I enlisted the help of attorneys across the state, including Tommy Thomason of Laurens, Brantley Harvey of Beaufort and Alan Lipsitz of Columbia.

The search paid off.

On June 5, I received an email from Herbert L. Novit, Esquire, Hilton Head, that read in part, "I am the 2-month-old baby referred to ... and I shall be pleased to speak to you at any time."

He offered both his office and home telephone numbers.

And so we talked.

After his mother's tragic death, he was sent to live with his paternal aunt and uncle, Bessie Zalin Novit and Albert Novit in Walterboro, where he would have an intact, loving family, including siblings.

He spoke glowingly of his happy childhood and of his high school and college years and of his good life with the Novits, business and civic leaders who raised him as their own son. He attended the University of South Carolina and Officer Candidate School, served on aircraft carriers in the Pacific in the 1960s, then finished law school at Carolina. He has a daughter and two grandchildren in Atlanta.

He was 5 when someone let it slip that he was not really a Novit and the whole episode about his mother was explained to him.

When he was grown he had his name legally changed to Novit, but maintained close and pleasant contact with his biological father, Harry Zalin.

So, what about his father, Harry?

He was stationed in London with the U.S. Navy during World War II. His brother Abe also served in the war and fought in the savage Italian campaign.

After the war, the two brothers opened a drug store in downtown Columbia. Herb worked there on weekends during college.

Harry died in 1970.

Another brother of Harry Zalin was a U.S. Army doctor in the Philippines, serving on Bataan and Corregidor. In 1942 he was captured by the invading Japanese and spent three-and-a-half years in a Japanese prison camp, losing 100 pounds, and returning from the war a mere shell of his former self.

ln our conversations I found Herb Novit an open, likable, pleasant and happy individual.

His mother's tragic death in Belton notwithstanding, the 2-month-old survivor has indeed had a life well-lived.

Editor's note: Herbert L. Novit has practiced law in Beaufort County since graduating from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1966. He was hired by G.G. Dowling to join the Beaufort firm headed by brothers G.G. and Joab Dowling. At one time, Dowling, Sanders, Dukes and Novit was the third largest law firm in the state, with 21 attorneys. Herb started doing legal work on Hilton Head Island in 1970. He moved to the island in 1975 and went into practice with Charles A. Scarminach in the early 1980s. He is now "of counsel" with the Novit & Scarminach firm, and lives in Sea Pines with his wife, Tina.

The Beaufort Gazette appreciates all written and photographic submissions from readers. All submissions become the copyrighted property of The Beaufort Gazette, which may use them for any purpose, including in print and online, without compensation to the submitter.

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service