Past governors offer Haleys parenting advice

Former governors and their families have one piece of advice for Nikki and Michael Haley as they move into the Governor's Mansion: Let the children lead normal lives.

As normal as it can be, that is, living in a mansion with an idyllic "secret garden" out front, a kitchen that never closes, receptions attended by the political elite -- and the presence of security, even on those awkward first dates.

"While you're a governor, you're a parent first," said David Beasley, the father of four who served from 1995 to 1999. "If you want to be brutally honest with it, governors come and go. Moms and Dads, that's not a part-time job."

After last week's inauguration, the Haley family -- including a 12-year-old girl, Rena, and 9-year-old boy, Nalin -- moved into the historic mansion near downtown.

Like other first families, they may find the lack of privacy difficult at first, and they may struggle with a demanding schedule of public events.

Beasley suggested that the Haleys mark family time on the weekly calendar "as a scheduled event" so it doesn't get crowded out by evening and weekend meetings, receptions and business trips. His wife, former first lady Mary Wood Beasley, has fond memories of her pre-schoolers running through the house, once priceless treasures were safely stored away.

Outside, toys littered the porch. A fort was built in the trees. And the girls would load up a wagon with dolls and tea sets, crossing the lawn to play in one of Columbia's most alluring formal gardens.

"A lot of times when we had events at the mansion, our children came downstairs," Mary Wood Beasley said, laughing. "I was always catching them sticking their fingers in something, or taking a bite of something and wanting to put it back."

Security around the house tightened, or the family orchestrated an out-of-state vacation, when the governor became embroiled in controversial issues.

Mike Campbell was a senior in high school when his father, the late Carroll Campbell, was inaugurated in 1987.

For every positive of living at 800 Richland St., there was a negative, he said.

"Living at the governor's mansion, you don't have a problem getting dates," he said.

But when a SLED agent insisted on accompanying him on his first date soon after he transferred to Heathwood Hall, Campbell said, "I thought it was cramping my style a little bit."

The agent sat outside the restaurant while they ate pizza, then slipped into a seat at the back of the movie theater, as he recalls.

Campbell continued to live with his parents at the Governor's Mansion while he attended the University of South Carolina. For the most part, he did things any normal 20-something would do.

"At the same time, you don't want to do anything that is going to bring embarrassment to yourself and to your parents. Unlike most kids, it would end up on the front page of the paper," he said.

Jim Hodges, governor from 1999-2003, wondered whether his young children sensed the change in security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the threat of anthrax sent through the mail. But SLED officers were never intrusive, he said.

"At school, it was the normal security that was available to other kids" in public schools, a community resource officer, Hodges said.

"Every effort is made to try to provide a safe, secure, comfortable environment for the children and to let them live as normal a life as possible," Hodges said. "And that's the way it should be."