Lee Brockington stands just shy of 5 feet, but her reach extends for miles.
While her job title is senior interpreter at Hobcaw Barony, the 16,000-acre research reserve just north of Georgetown, managed by the Belle Baruch Foundation, Brockington is so much more.
She’s a tireless promoter of Hobcaw and Pawleys Island,, but she’s also an author and an editor, a teacher and a student, a wife, mother and sister, an environmentalist and political activist, a historian and a promoter of causes and people close to her heart.
And she’s a builder of relationships..
“I always called Lee the premiere local treasure; even though she wasn’t born here,” said Linda Ketron, who has worked with Brockington on projects for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, on Waccamaw Library events, the Moveable Feast among other endeavors. “She’s a constant in my galaxy of stars.”
The two women work closely together on a variety of projects. Brockington often teaches through OLLI – including a history of the area she offers every other year -- and is a tireless promoter of the library. Ketron and Brockington both have served as president of the friends of the library and have helped organize concerts at Hobcaw’s Kimbel Lodge
They also put together a women’s retreat on Pawleys, where 20 women spend three days and two nights at the Sea View Inn and learn about the history and ecology of Pawleys Island. The class is offered twice a year though Community Learning About Special Subjects.
“We laugh, we cry, we learn,” said Brockington. “We’re only two miles from the South Strand, but we might as well be a million miles away.”
Brockington leads walks along the marsh so participants can really understand the environment — the ecology of the area. The group also shares meals – all lowcountry cooking.
While Brockington may not have been born in Pawleys Island, she embraced it and its people embraced her in return. For her, it’s the gospel of inclusiveity.
“If you stop and think about it, we’re all newcomers, except for Native Americans,” Brockington said. “ As I look at it, a big group of people that I’m speaking to, I want them to be part of this community. I want them to be a contributing part of this community, so my job is to acclimate them whether it’s history, ecology, or just how to get involved.”
She wants people to love the area that she calls home as much as she does. “When you love something, you tend to take care of it,” she said.
Brockington came to Pawleys Island in 1984 from Columbia, lured by the opportunity to work at Hobcaw, her second foray into museum work.” I discovered [Hobcaw] in 1983, I was blown away. I hounded them until they hired me,” Brockington said.
Her first taste of museum work came while she was a student at her mother’s alma mater, Columbia College majoring in public affairs and public relations.
All through college she taught horseback riding at a summer camp. One of her fellow counselors had just taken a job with the Historic Columbia Foundation and suggested that Brockington apply for an internship. She got the position and held it for two semesters.
“When I went to Historic Columbia the first day, it was loud, it was busy, the school buses were loading and unloading. I just loved it,” she said. She liked it so much, she changed the focus of her major to museum studies with an emphasis on interpretation and public education at museums. When she graduated college, she already has a paid job in her field.
When her mentor resigned, Brockington moved up.
She helped organize the volunteers into a guild, working on improving their interpretation skills through training and trips to other museums. She carried that over when she came to Hobcaw.
“I realized my skills lay in public education and interpretation. I wanted to learn how do we tell the truth, how do we tell the story, not in budgets,” she said.
She already had learned how to make things happen. When growing up, she wanted to ride horses, but that was a luxury. Her parents didn’t deny her the chance to ride, but challenged her. “They said, ‘how are you going to make that happen’ when I asked about riding lessons,” she recalled.
She made it happen by getting a job at a stables. Her proudest moments came when she got to work with the stallions at WildeWood Stables and Polo Barn.
“It was almost like a scholarship student. Part of my work was cleaning stalls, feeding, tacking and exercising horses. And I was in seventh heaven,” she said.
It was there that she met the horse trainer Max Hirsch. It wasn’t until 30 years later that she discovered that Hirsch had trained Bernard Baruch’s horses..
. “It does seem like so much of what I’ve done has been preparation to work at Hobcaw Barony,” she said. “The things I’ve been interested in – politics, women, race, religion – all the things you’re not supposed to talk about – we get to talk about at Hobcaw Barony.”
It’s not just Hobcaw Barony that has provided a home for Brockington. Pawleys Island has embraced her as she has embraced it.
When she arrived in the area, Pawleys was unincorporated and a far cry from the town of today, and Hurricane Hugo, which devastate4 Pawleys Island was five years in the future.
Brockington found a rental on the island for the grand total of $150 a month, and she settled in to make the Grand Strand her home.
It was there that she met her future husband, Bill Shehan, an area representative for Santee Cooper.
Faye Marlow, whose husband, Frank, owned Marlow’s Super Market knew that Shehan was single and was raising his children as a single father. He had one in diapers and one was a toddler. Lee, too, was single.
Marlow introduced the pair, and in 1988, Shehan and Brockington became engaged. .They wed in 1990, and Brockington became a mother to Shehan’s son, Clay, an artist. They share a second son, Brock.
That change in status opened a door to Brockington, who took time off from the working world to raise her children. That’s when she became involved in PTA, the library and other activities.
When she returned to work, she opted out of PTA, but she kept her hand in other volunteer efforts.
She and Shehan volunteer at Pawleys Island Presbyterian Church, where Shehan ushers and Brockington delivers the youth sermon. Brockington has become an avid volunteer with the Boy Scouts – Shehan is assistant troop leader for Troop 396 at Belin United Methodist Church.
Shehan is proud of his wife’s political endeavors Brockington was on the board of the League of Women Voters when the organization took on International Paper over dioxin levels in the Sampit River.
And Brockington served on the Pawleys Island Planning Commission before being elected to the tiny community’s town council.
Brockington and Shehan merge their skills to help on Sandy Island, most recently helping put a new roof on Wilma’s Cottage, a bed and breakfast on the island.
“Lee didn’t know about roofing, so I oversaw that, and I didn’t know about fundraising, so she was in charge of that part,” Shehan said.
The owner of Wilma’s Cottage, Laura Herriott, remains a friend. “She is just heaven-sent,” Herriott says of Brockington. “She has never treated me like a stranger.”
Of course, Brockington’s penchant for making friends is well-known. She once told a friend that she set a record – she spent 2 hours in the post office parking lot chatting with friends.
“Bill knows not to send me for bread on a Saturday,” Brockington says. “He knows that I’ll spend hours reconnecting with old friends whom I haven’t seen in a year.”.
The couple still makes time for family, frends and travel. When Clay lived in the Pacific Northwest, they made a visit. And while Brock was in school in Pittsburgh, they made a number of trips north.
But they still cherish their Pawleys Island home. And it cherishes them right back.