In the shadows of Beaufort giants like Pat Conroy and Joe Frazier, a lesser-known cast of characters help shape the city’s fabric.
Nathaniel Bennett, who died Monday at age 64, is certain to be remembered among those characters, though perhaps for different reasons than others. Bennett, a U.S. Army veteran, was embraced in the spirit of a military town that has welcomed service members for decades, longtime resident Anita Singleton-Prather said.
“He had so many stories if people took the time to listen to him,” Singleton-Prather said. “I just always told people Beaufort is one of those special places you come to — either you love it or hate it — and it’s unique in the ways that strangers feel at home when they come here. People come and say ‘I’ve been searching and I’ve been looking and I got here and my spirit felt at peace.’ He helped give people a sense of belonging and acceptance.”
Bennett remembered many names, bestowed nicknames on other familiar faces and despite not having a car, surprised people by turning up all over town. Before his constant presence downtown at the post office and Bay Street, Bennett was popular as an honor student at Beaufort High School, handsome and athletic, Singleton-Prather said.
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He had medical challenges that could make him difficult to deal with at times, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said.
But Keyserling helped him as did others, befriending Bennett and telling him their relationship would be one of tough love.
“He became a fixture who was known to be a jokester, who was warm and lovable but also troubled,” Keyserling said.
Bennett fits somewhere among the number of memorable figures outside of its famous native sons, the bestselling author Conroy and heavyweight champion Frazier.
The characters of Beaufort are grocers, witch doctors and bicyclists. They are memorable for the legacy they left or for just being memorable.
Before his death in 2013, Wilson “Tootie” Rourke led Beaufort parades, swept Bay Street, helped children cross the street and earned his nickname by blowing a whistle given to him by police to direct school buses at Robert Smalls High School.
In the 1960s, he inadvertently integrated Harry’s Restaurant on Bay Street by sitting down for lunch and failing to understand when its owner tried to explain why he wasn’t welcome, Conroy wrote in “The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life.” Conroy made Tootie a character in one of his novels.
Walter Dennis lived in Beaufort’s Northwest Quadrant, wrote books of poetry and recipes on his typewriter, dealt with health and financial setbacks and loved to talk, his 2010 obituary noted. He was a U.S. Army veteran and advocate for others who served, his writing was published in The Beaufort Gazette under the name “The Dixie Drifter.”
Dennis liked to bend the ear of James Pruitt, the longtime owner of Pruitt’s Grocery on Greene Street who died in 2015. Pruitt was another of the city’s characters, famous within the blocks where people knew him best for his penny candy, lunch meat and conversation.
Then there’s Dottie McDaniel, who eschewed a car for a three-wheel bicycle, mowed grass in her swimsuit and swam the Beaufort River into her 80s. McDaniel died a year ago at 95.
Madeleine Pollitzer sold ham biscuits on the honor system from her back porch in the Point.
Legendary Sheriff J. Ed Mcteer Sr. and Dr. Buzzard were among the area’s noted voodoo practitioners.
Mark Wiggs, known as “Gizmo,” lost the use of both legs at a young age and can often be seen riding a special bicycle in the Northwest Quadrant.