Remembering Mayor Tom Peeples: Island Legend, Consensus Builder, Friend

May 2024

Last month, we bid farewell to a true Hilton Head Island icon, Mayor Thomas D. Peeples. His legacy is deeply woven into the fabric of our Island, shaping it into the paradise we know and love today. A native of the Lowcountry, Mayor Peeples was a trailblazer, becoming the first from the region to hold the mayoral office. His dedication to enhancing his hometown knew no bounds. 

Growing up nearby in Ridgeland, Mayor Peeples later settled in Hilton Head Island and contributed to its growth by building homes during a pivotal period of development. His wife, Mary Ann, often pitched in to help. Constructing homes marked his initial impact on our shores.

Mayor Peeples' commitment extended beyond his professional duties, as evidenced by his involvement in numerous volunteer roles. However, it was during his tenure in local government that he left an indelible mark. Elected to Town Council in 1989, he served as Mayor for an unprecedented 15 years, a record that still stands today. His leadership was marked by transformative projects and policies, setting a new standard for public service. He stepped down in 2010, leaving an unmatched legacy.

During his tenure, he introduced initiatives like the Island's Capital Improvement Program and led the establishment of the real estate transfer fee, a move that has generated an average of $4.2 million each year for the Town's Land Acquisition Program. Mayor Peeples' advocacy for the Tax Increment Financing District brought $150 million in substantial upgrades to the Island's drainage, parks, pathways, fire stations, and secondary roads. He was also instrumental in creating a Hilton Head Island parks and open space master plan, which protected and preserved the Honey Horn and the Coastal Discovery Museum sites. In recognition of his generous efforts and those of his wife, the museum named it Discovery Lab for Mayor Peeples and its pavilion after Mary Ann. 

His passion for consensus-building on challenging issues the Town Council grappled with and preserving our natural heritage was unwavering, and his initiatives continue to shape our community today. In 2011, for all his life work and his spirit of leadership, Mayor Peeples was presented with South Carolina's highest civilian honor—the Order of the Palmetto.

Mayor Peeples' influence extended far beyond government; he was a cherished friend and mentor to many, including me. His wisdom, guidance, and infectious spirit have shaped my role as Mayor and my personal journey. His absence leaves a void in our hearts, yet his legacy remains ever-present, immortalized in the countless footprints he left upon our sands and in the enduring impact of his work.

As we continue to traverse the paths Mayor Peeples paved, let us honor his memory by preserving and cherishing the Island he held dear. His legacy as a local leader and one of Hilton Head Island's finest mayors will forever endure, and all who had the privilege of knowing him will deeply feel his absence. In closing, I ask that we collectively keep Mayor Peeples' wife Mary Ann, his son Josh, and the entire Peeples family in our thoughts during their time of loss.

Mayor Alan Perry

Alan Perry