Last night I attended the Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce Ball. Now get this, I actually wore a tux! No doubt the quote about putting lipstick on a pig comes to mind but in all seriousness, my reason for going was two-fold.
Every year someone in the community is awarded the Alice Glenn Doughtie Good Citizenship Award. Regarded as the top award at this event, you may or may not know that Alice was my sister and what an incredible person she was. Blond, blue-eyed and giving almost to a fault, she was darn near perfect. After my parents picked her up at the airport during a break from Mary Baldwin College, they were involved in a horrific car accident. After four years in a coma she finally passed. It was then that this award was established.
So with that difficult memory out, I was contacted by the Chamber a couple of weeks ago suggesting that I might want to attend this year’s event because of my close relationship to this year’s recipient. I wasn’t informed who it was, but like cat seeing a lizard, curiosity got the better of me so I went. It was Al Stokes, my friend and director of the Waddell Mariculture Center!
Al Stokes may indeed be an employee of the state, but his contributions to this community are in no way, shape or form in his designated job description. It is because of his generous nature that he is called to offer his extensive knowledge to generation after generation of Lowcountry residents. If he has one fault, it has to be his inability to say “no” when asked to talk to a variety of local organizations and schools.
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Especially in the education arena, on pretty much of a daily basis from kindergarten on up through the college level, there are requests for his time and knowledge. And you know what? Al never ever says no.
When you think of the Hilton Head-Bluffton area what comes to mind? Golf? Tennis? The beach? No, it is our pristine waters and maze of estuaries that is and always has been what draws people here. Though the Waddell Mariculture Center was developed to advance the science of aquaculture, a field that will no doubt be the top provider of sustainable seafood in the future, since 1979 Al Stokes has taken his knowledge far beyond the gates of the Waddell Center in an attempt to preserve the health of our area’s waters, by far our most precious resource.
It is this willingness to give to our community that has made the Waddell Mariculture Center the focus for community involvement. There is no other state-run facility that has the level of community backing like Waddell. Even when state funding for Waddell was cut, it was because of Al Stokes commitment to this community that the community responded in kind. Countless volunteers organized and the nonprofit Waddell Fund was established. Since its inception, countless thousands of dollars have been raised to ensure that Al and the meager crew at the Waddell Mariculture Center have the resources to continue their vital work.
I attribute every bit of this extraordinary show of gratitude from our community to Al Stokes. If it were not for his selfless personality and willingness to give of his time and knowledge no matter how long a day he may have already had, the waters around Hilton Head and Bluffton might not enjoy the classification of being a gold standard that it now touts and, God willing, will retain for generations to come.
Due to retire this year, in my opinion there is only one Al Stokes. I am pretty certain his retirement from DNR will be just that and not a retirement from helping our community in any way he can.