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News Release

Carey F. Smith, Hilton Head Island's First Town Manager, Passes Away

Release Date: July 8, 2020

Contact Information:
Carolyn Grant email icon , Communications Director, 843-341-4618


Carey F. SmithCarey F. Smith, who took the reins as the Town of Hilton Head Island's first Town Manager, died Sunday, July 5th. He was 77.

Smith was a native South Carolinian who served in local government for over 40 years. He was the Assistant Manager in Spartanburg before serving as City Manager in Dillon, North Augusta and Myrtle Beach. He came to Hilton Head Island in 1983, when the Town was first incorporated and sought its first manager to guide it through its formative years. Smith served the Town for five years, putting many programs and policies in place that, with some modest changes, remain today, said current Town Manager Steve Riley.

Smith was remembered as an organizer and manager who helped the Town get up and running from literally nothing and led it through tumultuous times. He brought a wide range of experience and knowledge that Town Council members and leaders felt were essential to lay the foundation for early beginnings of new governance on Hilton Head Island.

"We started with literally nothing. Not an adding machine. Not a computer," said Michael L.M. Jordan, who at the time co-chaired the committee leading the charge to incorporate Hilton Head Island. He served as the Town’s first attorney.

"Carey was there from the very beginning, helping to pull the Town together, getting it on the right foot and getting it organized. He did a fabulous job," said Jordan, who helped write new laws for the Town. "He actually was shepherding them through the Town Council. What were going to be development codes? Who had vested rights? There were a lot of people who had opinions. But Carey kept the Town moving forward and kept people willing to work with each other. We got through it. He was a contributor."

Members of the first Town Council agreed.

"During the time I worked with him, I thought he was a good manager and was well liked by many people. He was our first manager and was the best person for the role," said former Town Councilman Henry Driessen, who served on the first Town Council that hired Smith.

Driessen recalled that there were some council members who wanted to consider managers from states other than South Carolina. "But, I felt Smith was smart and very knowledgeable, and would guide as just as good as anybody else," he said.

Wes Jones, who also served on the first Town Council, said Smith was an excellent choice. "The best part is he understood none of us knew what we were doing. Cary was sensitive and I appreciated that about him. He was gentle, wise and very thorough," Jones said. "We were lucky to push the right button and get the right guy."

After leaving Hilton Head Island, Smith served as City Manager in the Florida communities of Tarpon Springs and Daytona Beach. He returned to South Carolina in 2002 to become the City Manager for Rock Hill.

"That is when I got the opportunity to meet him and hear his stories of the early days of Hilton Head Island. Carey and his wife Joan maintained many friendships on Hilton Head Island, including with our first Mayor, Ben Racusin and his wife Helen. They visited the Island many times over the years," Riley said.

Following his retirement in 2010, Smith served at times as an Acting Manager for communities that were searching for a new Manager. He performed this role twice for Hardeeville, presenting additional opportunities to talk about the Island and our individual experiences, Riley said.

Smith served as President of the South Carolina City and County Management Association (SCCCMA) in 1977 and received their Lifetime Achievement Award upon his retirement. He was active in the International City/County Managers Association (ICMA) and the National League of Cities and received numerous recommendations and awards.

Smith is survived by his wife Joan, two sons and four grandchildren.

A funeral service for Smith will be held 2:00 pm Saturday, July 11, 2020 at The Wood Mortuary in Greer, South Carolina and may be viewed via webcast at www.thewoodmortuary.com. Burial will follow in Mountain View Cemetery, Greer, South Carolina. Memorials may be made to The Citadel Alumni Association, Salvation Army or charity of one's choice. Online condolences may be made at www.thewoodmortuary.com.