Decades from now, when Technical College of the Lowcountry students walk through the doors of the Angus Cotton Academic Center, what should they know about the building's namesake?
The classroom building on the New River Campus in Okatie will be named for Cotton in a ceremony today.
Future students could quickly discover that it's named for a man who served on the TCL Commission for 20 years, 17 as chairman. That's a lot of 99-mile round trips from his home in Sea Pines to board meetings at TCL headquarters on Beaufort's Ribaut Road.
They could trace the school's remarkable change and growth on Cotton's watch, which started when Fred S. Washington Jr. of Beaufort recruited him, and ended with his retirement in 2009. They may even find that the classroom building reflects his warmth and ability to pinch a penny. Someone could tell them that because Cotton helped open several Marriott hotels, including one on Hilton Head Island in 1981, he played a personal role in the design and construction of the college building.
I would hope they discover other things.
Cotton loved his community and worked hard to make it better. From the days that he and Bev and their three children loaded the station wagon and left Washington, D.C., at midnight for the drive to Hilton Head for a week of vacation, he loved this community. He timed his retirement to coincide with the end of his run as general manager of the Marriott here.
Then, he really got busy.
He helped the late state Rep. Harriet Keyserling of Beaufort get the state accommodations tax approved, pumping millions of dollars into the arts and tourism marketing; he played an important role in saving the RBC Heritage golf tournament when it almost died in 1987; and he co-founded Leadership Hilton Head, Sea Pines Associates and the Greater Island Committee. He led the United Way and the chamber of commerce. He was a leader in his church. He and Bev were honored together with the Alice Glenn Doughtie Community Service Award.
Maybe this is why TCL president Tom Leitzel can say today: "In addition to the building dedication, his numerous friends have initiated the creation of the Angus Cotton Academic Center Endowment Fund to ensure the facility will always have the latest technology to complement instruction. Contributions may be made to the Cotton Endowment through the TCL Foundation."
Meanwhile, Cotton, at 85 and in a wheelchair, is looking for $10 million for the next TCL building on the New River Campus.
Maybe somehow by osmosis future students can hear Cotton say: "Community is us, baby. Get involved with something, somewhere."
But they should also hear his warning: "First thing you do is run the hotel. Do your job first."
He thought a minute about what he'd tell future TCL students about their education, if he had a chance. "The most important thing is they can afford it," he said.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.