David Lauderdale

Waterfront park's namesake floats into a new chapter of life

Henry C. Chambers stands with his wife Joye outside of their boat and home, Argonauta, on Thursday afternoon at the Beaufort Downtown Marina in Beaufort.
Henry C. Chambers stands with his wife Joye outside of their boat and home, Argonauta, on Thursday afternoon at the Beaufort Downtown Marina in Beaufort. Staff photo

Henry C. Chambers has cast everything else upon the waters in his long life in Beaufort. Why should his new marriage be any different?

The former mayor is now in good company on his live-aboard Hatteras yacht docked next to the waterfront park that bears his name. This spring, he married Joye Jenkins Trott of Charleston. He said they knew each other in college and got together after both lost their spouses. She has now come aboard his newest, and perhaps most unexpected, chapter on the river.

"My wife seems to like it," Chambers said.

He's not roughing it at the Beaufort Downtown Marina. He calls the three-bedroom, three-bath yacht a condominium on water.

"The only difference is, it floats," he said.

He'll be floating high through the 58th annual Beaufort Water Festival that opened Friday night. On Tuesday, he'll celebrate his 85th birthday. On Saturday, he'll be the grand marshal of the Water Festival parade.

Like others in his generation, Chambers has spent a good bit of his life afloat. But he took it to a new level after his first wife, Betty, died. He found that a 7,000-square-foot home overlooking the Beaufort River was a bit much for him and Carolina Jazz, his Labrador retriever. He downsized about seven years ago in an experience that was nothing like his first tastes of salty water.

As a young boy growing up on Port Republic Street, Chambers and his friends would row to Goat Island for weekend camping trips that tended to last as long as the food did.

At other times, the boys would activate their spy network to ascertain when the owner had left Pleasant Point Plantation. They would then row across the Beaufort River to swim in his saltwater pool -- and see if it was true that the pool featured velvet-covered trapezes.

As older boys, they would boat over to Hilton Head Island to camp as Boy Scouts where Marines camped in World War II.

When he was 16, Chambers started flying a Piper J-3 Cub airplane over the water to spot schools of fish. When he saw them, he'd land on the beach. He also flew over the water to Hilton Head to deliver mail to the Hilton Head Agricultural Society, a hunt club where Palmetto Dunes is today.

He still goes down the river in a smaller boat.

"Joye likes to shrimp and fish," he said.

And he still goes to work every morning at Beaufort Realty, staying at the office near Bellamy Curve until he thinks the phone won't ring any more.

He thinks people in their 80s have a lot to offer, and instead of slowing down, they should do something meaningful for Beaufort.

As for himself, he's still wheeling and dealing. And he can't quit thinking about Beaufort infrastructure, growth and priorities.

He believes the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority should be part of county government rather than an independent agency.

He thinks the city of Beaufort should scuttle plans for a day dock along the 1,200-foot seawall at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

"I don't think it's broke," he said. "I'm concerned they'll overcrowd it."

He finds it gratifying to see people enjoying the waterfront park, the result of a lot of forward-thinking and hard work during his tenure as mayor from 1970 to 1991.

"We've come so far," he said. "There are 46 counties in South Carolina, and 45 of them want to be us. It wasn't always that way."

Even when he was mayor, raw sewage emptied into the Beaufort River. Where the waterfront park is today, people dumped debris into the river.

Beaufort's greatest asset, he said, is its location. "It's almost surrounded by water," he said.

With that comes a good theme for an annual waterfront festival in the heat of summer.

But it also comes with a responsibility that each generation wisely casts bread upon the waters.

"We've made tremendous progress in the utilization of our God-given assets," Chambers said.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.