By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
After Carolyn “Bet” Norment Phillips of Darlington passed away last March, the reading of her last will and testament revealed a big surprise – a $4 million bequest that will secure the history of her beloved Darlington County for decades to come.
Many people knew that Phillips loved collecting and sharing stories of local history. Her home contained a veritable treasure trove of documents, photographs and objects that represented many highlight moments of the past two centuries. These included everything from chronicles of Darlington life during wartime to game balls from local sporting champions.
What no one seemed to understand was just how deep her commitment ran. Brian Gandy, director of the Darlington County Historical Commission, admits that hearing about his friend’s generous gift gave him a great shock.
“Bet was a consummate historian. She saved, preserved, and some might say hoarded, all sorts of wonderful stuff. So when she would call and say she had something for me, I would make a beeline over there to see her. I’d spend half a day or more hearing stories and getting the material, which was awesome,” says Gandy.
He recalls that once in a while, Phillips would ask him – hypothetically, of course – what he would do if she gave the Commission some money. Usually, she would set this sum at $5,000 or so, but never more than about $25,000. Gandy says that even those modest gifts would ignite his imagination and he had little trouble conjuring ideas for how he would utilize the extra money. Evidently, Phillips liked his responses.
“I thought she might give us about $10,000,” Gandy says. “I never envisioned it would be $4 million. … She sort of vetted us herself to see what we valued and what out priorities were, where we saw ourselves going. Obviously, she was very comfortable with what she heard, because she put her money and her faith in us.”
Gandy says the money will be used to do several things, including constructing a new two-story building beside the commission’s current three-story facility. This new construction will include a new reading room and library, and a dedicated display area which will feature art, artifacts, and interactive displays. The commission will be converted to archive storage, with an elevator added for convenience and safety.
“Basically, we’d gain a full floor (for storage). Plus, with some new file systems upstairs, we’d gain a good bit of space that could carry us 50 more years,” says Gandy. “We’re looking to build something that will blend architecturally with this building.”
Not all of the money will be spent on construction, says Gandy, noting that much of the bequest will be safely invested to provide for the future of the Commission. To that end, Darlington County Council’s Feb. 4 meeting agenda included a resolution accepting Phillips’ gift and restricting its use in perpetuity.
Gandy says the resolution includes protections for both the principal and all interest income generated by the bequest, ensuring that the money will never be misdirected away from its intended purpose.
“It restricts the principal and the interest back to the commission, so it’s a blessing,” said Gandy.
With the money tucked away in the bank and plans developing for a bright future, Gandy says he can’t help smiling when he thinks of Phillips and her not-so-hypothetical financial quizzes.
“I think sometimes that she must have doubled over laughing after I left, knowing what she had planned,” says Gandy.