A chance encounter brings back memories of the inspiration behind Hilton Head Heroes

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comSeptember 2, 2013 

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Hilton Head Island family musician and entertainer Gregg Russell, right, talks with a parent who had listened to him as a child Friday night during a concert underneath the Liberty Oak in Sea Pines. Russell is in his 37th year of performing.

SARAH WELLIVER — Staff photo Buy Photo

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    Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com.

Thanks to Gregg Russell of Hilton Head Island for sharing the story of how the Hilton Head Heroes charity began.

"The Dragon Slayer"

By Gregg Russell

This spring during the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, something extraordinary happened to me.

As I was standing on the Harbour Town Golf Links, a huge gust of wind blew a heavy green cloud of pollen out of a stand of tall pine trees. I instinctively covered my nose and mouth with my hands to keep from inhaling too much pollen. Almost immediately, one of the tournament volunteers standing close by looked over at me and said, "With all the rain we've had this year, I would have thought the worst of the pollen season would be over by now."

He looked at me in a "do I know you from somewhere" way and then said, "You look familiar. Do I know you?"

I told him that I am the guy who sings under the tree in Harbour Town every night. He was visibly shaken as he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I know you don't remember me, but I'm Herb Womble."

I was instantly transported back more than 25 years to a night in Harbour Town when I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful young fellow during one of my shows. He was chosen to sing that night and left the stage with a big smile and that was that.

Some months later, I received a heartbreaking letter from his mother, telling me that her son had been diagnosed with cancer and she thought that maybe a note from me might cheer him up a bit. Well, we began corresponding and I invited him and his family to return to Sea Pines as my guests.

Time went by and the last thing that Little Herbie ever sent to me was a story that he had written about slaying his "dragons" and the inspiration that he had received from a gentle singing "wizard" who lived under a big oak tree. Shortly thereafter, I received a beautiful note from his mother telling me that Herbie had passed away and they would not be making that trip back to Hilton Head Island.

This special young man would have been our first Hilton Head Hero child if he had been able to make that trip. But in his passing, he touched me in a life-changing way. He made me feel that there must be lots of other kids who are valiantly fighting their own dragons who would just like the chance to get away from all of the tubes, treatments and terror that they face every day.

The idea of Hilton Head Heroes was born because of Herbie.

And now, all of these years later, many hundreds of courageous children and their families have spent time on our island climbing the lighthouse, riding bikes, playing on the beach and swimming in the Hero House pool. The heart and soul of one little boy remains alive in the hopes and dreams of so many who have come after him. My young friend, little Herbie Womble, left behind a legacy that lives on until this day.

I hope that has, in some small way, helped to heal this dad's broken heart.

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