Gandy preserves traditions at Historical Commission
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
First-time visitors to the Darlington County Historical Commission might be intimidated by the building’s formidable facade; after all, it served as the County Jail from 1937 to 1976, and was known as “the Bastille” by locals. But once you step inside and shake hands with DCHC director Brian Gandy, he of the merry laugh and quick smile, you’ll know you’ve found a friend who can help you navigate these tricky corridors and find that piece of the past you’re seeking.
A local boy through and through, Gandy grew up in the Antioch community of Hartsville, graduated from Hartsville High, and proceeded to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Francis Marion University and a master’s degree in pastoral psychology from Gardner-Webb University.
With family ties in the area dating back to the 1800s, parents Tim and Doris Gandy gave him strong local roots, so strong that despite his youthful desire to shake off small town life and see the world, Brian was surprised by how much he missed Darlington County.
“I was one of those that wanted to make my grand escape and put it behind me, but when I was away, there was a void. The only thing that filled that void was coming home,” he says. “I missed the people, the culture, the environment. I really missed the history.”
Granted, Brian had more exposure to our county’s lore than most young people. As a lad, he often visited his mom when she worked for indefatigable historian Horace Rudisell at the Darlington County Historical Commission, and Brian frequently found himself drafted into pack mule duties, hauling countless document boxes up and down the narrow, winding staircase. After Rudisell passed in 2003, Doris Gandy took the reins and valiantly strove to impose order on the Commission’s vast archives.
While she set about this task, Brian matriculated to university and went on to a career in the ministry, specializing in palliative care for terminally ill youths. His task was daunting; Gandy would meet the kids, talk to them about their condition and prognosis, and often counsel them right up until their deaths.
“It’s difficult work,” he admits. “Eventually I got tired of telling kids they were dying. I went out on my sabbatical and never went back.”
Needing a change of pace, Brian went to work for Walmart, spending fifteen years there as a salary manager. During his time there, he joined the Darlington County Historical Society, rising from board member to president and starting projects – like a themed and fact-filled annual calendar – to raise awareness of county history.
“It lit fires in me that I didn’t know I had. I developed a much deeper love for that kind of work, for finding ways to re-integrate history into the daily lives of county citizens,” Brian says. “My feeling is that we can’t understand where we’re going if we don’t understand where we’ve been.”
When Doris Gandy began talking about retiring from her position as Historical Commission director earlier this year, Brian, with his experience and enthusiasm, seemed a natural choice as successor and was confirmed this summer.
“I’m very fortunate that the former historian was my mother, so I grew up in the ranks, learning about county history and feeling a great love for it,” says Brian, describing the job as “a privilege and an honor.”
He has certainly hit the ground running, already working up themed displays of military uniforms with ties to Darlingtonians and Pee Dee soldiers, accompanied by relevant artifacts, for one of the Commission’s display rooms. Through contributions from a generous local patron, the Commission will soon add a bit of high-tech convenience in the form of a touch-free document scanner (to better preserve aged papers and photographs) and flat screen televisions playing slide shows of historic images.
Brian says he wants to lift the Historical Commission’s public profile until everyone understands exactly what a treasure trove of records, photographs, family histories, and artifacts they have at their fingertips.
“I want the name of the Darlington County Historical Commission to be as understood and well received as that of the treasurer or the tax collector,” says Brian. “When you hear it, you know who those people are and what they stand for. We are the storehouse of records that represent the foundings of this county, from the very beginning all the way up through last week.”
To learn more, drop by and visit the Darlington County Historical Commission at 204 Hewitt Street in Darlington, or phone (843) 398-4710.