Three years ago, Distant Island resident Ed Gillies casually approached a neighbor who was raking leaves about a newspaper article he'd read.
It mentioned volunteers who oversee the Beaufort County School District's construction programs. The neighbor -- then the chairman of the district's Capital Improvements Advisory Committee -- took Gillies' interest as an offer.
Soon, Gillies started visiting school construction sites and reviewing expense records and design plans. The retiree from Chicago became a staple at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies to celebrate the opening of each new public school -- six since 2009, as well as the new Arts Center at Beaufort High School.
Now the chairman of the advisory committee, Gillies writes quarterly reports to the public on the progress of new construction, published as advertisements in local newspapers.
This service to the county school district earned Gillies, 73, a "Champions for Public Education Award" from the S.C. School Boards Association. He's scheduled to be recognized at tonight's county Board of Education meeting.
The awards, given quarterly, recognize residents and organizations who support public schools and make contributions that benefit an entire school district.
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale called Gillies a well-deserving winner and described the members of his advisory committee as highly committed.
"The tireless devotion of Mr. Gillies and the other members has saved taxpayers significant dollars and contributed to the quality of the work," she said in a news release.
In addition to working on school construction projects, Gillies designed the animated logo for the school district that was launched in 2009. He owned an advertising and marketing company in Chicago before he retired.
Also an artist, Gillies has donated paintings to be auctioned at fundraisers for the school district.
He sees his volunteerism as reciprocation for the opportunities he has been given.
"I think real satisfaction comes from what you can do for others, as opposed to what you can accomplish for yourself," he said.