When you think of Columbia, what do you picture? The Horseshoe, the Vista, the man in the bathtub at Yesterday’s in Five Points? While these iconic locations set the Columbia scene, there’s also a supporting cast of familiar faces we’ve come to know and love over the years. While some have moved from our TV screens and daily shopping lists to quiet, well-earned island getaways, they are as “Columbia” as Rush’s and Cromer’s. Columbia Metropolitan caught up with some of Columbia’s most famously hot Columbians.
Photo Courtesy of Lou Green
PM Magazine Co-Host
When asked about his days at PM Magazine, a syndicated television series that ran on WIS-TV from 1980 until 1990, Lou Green laughs and marvels. “I still hear about it! I think about how old they need to be to have even watched it. That show went off the air in 1990.”
For Lou, who grew up in south Georgia, staying in Columbia once PM Magazine wrapped was a given. “I stayed in Columbia, the town I love,” he says. Today, Lou is the executive vice president of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, Inc., the trade association for electric cooperatives in the state. In marketing and public relations for the group since 1992, Lou still finds that the years he spent on PM Magazine with co-host Betsy Breckinridge are a great conversation starter. “If you talk more than 30 seconds about electricity, people’s eyes start to glaze over.”
One person who could never bear to tune out Lou? Betsy. She and Lou do enjoy lunch every now and then. Although their paths rarely cross socially, when they manage to get together, Betsy says they still have the best time.
In fact, Betsy is one of Lou’s two Facebook friends. “I am just not that into it,” he says. “I’m still learning to use it. So one day I got in there, and I saw that Betsy had sent me a friend request. I had no idea when or how long it sat there.” Betsy laughed at the mention of Lou’s Facebook use. “He sent me an email apologizing for not responding sooner! We spent 10 years side by side. I love Lou. Always will.”
Photo Courtesy of Betsy Breckinridge
PM Magazine Co-Host
Betsy is astonished so many people remember PM Magazine. Almost daily, she says, people recognize her or know she looks familiar. “But if they can’t quite place it, I usually just smile and do not volunteer the reason they think they know me.”
Originally from St. Louis, Betsy came to Columbia, S.C. from Columbia, Mo., where she hosted the local PM Magazine television program there. “I was settled, had a home and was happy. And then I got a cold call from Columbia, S.C.’s PM Magazine,” she says. “I thought, why not? It’s a coastal state … they probably have good seafood there.”
After initially turning down the job, Betsy accepted, thinking she probably wouldn’t be here that long. Today, Betsy’s a mother of two “born and bred South Carolinians,” still active in the community she loves, happily settled in Shandon and having the time of her life.
Because her daughter works for NBC Nightly News, earlier this year Betsy was featured in a national story discussing a new passion: shedding a long family history of saving everything.
“All my life I hung onto things. My mother was like that. Her mother was like that. It all funneled into my house. I was responsible for all this stuff, and it was suffocating me. That’s something a lot of families are now facing with the sagging economy – aging Baby Boomers, downsizing. But it was enormously emotional for me, while going through it,” she says. “I was like a crazed cat clinging to the ceiling while letting go of so many treasured things. But now I’m able to look to the future instead of the past. It is an exhilarating opportunity for a fresh start.”
Working off and on with good friends at Estate Liquidators of South Carolina has also been cathartic for Betsy. “I’ve hit 60, and I couldn’t be happier,” she says. The Shandon home she shares with her love, Tom, is nearly a full-time job. “We’re having the time of our lives tweaking it to perfectly suit us. It keeps me busy and creative.”
The woman who almost didn’t come to Columbia ended up liking it. So much, in fact, she made Columbia her home 30 years ago and is here to stay.
Photo Courtesy of Patton Adams
Mayor of Columbia
You could say T. Patton Adams made Columbia his career, but you’d be missing a lot of chapters before and after his time as mayor. A Vietnam veteran, Adams was an officer in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps and the recipient of a Bronze Star before he hit the political scene in Columbia. A graduate of the USC School of Law, Adams first served his hometown as an at-large member of city council from 1976 to 1986. Then again from 1986 to 1990 as mayor of Columbia.
“I’d always had an interest in the city itself. I was born in Columbia and graduated from Columbia High School when it was downtown,” he says.
When then Mayor Kirkman Finlay decided not to run, Adams did and won. During his tenure as both city council member and mayor, Adams took part in pivotal moments in Columbia history. “During my time on city council, I took the lead in developing Riverfront Park. I saw it go from riverfront jungle to a well-used park,” he recalls. During his tenure as mayor he created Memorial Park, chaired the drive to build the S.C. Vietnam Memorial, and transformed a worn-out industrial downtown area into a beautiful park originally known as Sidney Park when the city was created in 1786, and now known as Finlay Park.
Mayor Adams enjoyed an ongoing war of words — mostly tongue-in-cheek — with New York Mayor Ed Koch. “We had an ongoing contest of opinions over a long span of time about the origin of New York City’s nickname, ‘The Big Apple,’” he laughs. “Most New Yorkers don’t want to believe the nickname came from a dance that was made famous in Columbia in the ‘30s at Big Al’s night club, a deconsecrated Jewish synagogue at the corner of Hampton and Park streets in downtown Columbia.” The Big Apple was designated an historic landmark when Adams was mayor.
Adams maintained a private law practice throughout his career, but in 2005 he decided he’d had enough of private practice and began serving as the Executive Director of the S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense. “We’re essentially rebuilding the state’s indigent defense system,” he explains. In spite of ongoing civic and legal work, Adams does find time to enjoy peace and quiet on Edisto Island.
Photo Courtesy of Russell Adair
Miss South Carolina 1993, Miss America 1994
When Kimberly Aiken became the first African American Miss South Carolina in 1993 she had no idea she’d soon take on another life-changing role: Miss America 1994.
“I was so proud to represent my state and my city in the Miss America pageant. One of my fondest memories is coming home to a huge celebration put on by the city of Columbia after my Miss America crowning. It was so special,” she says.
“I am definitely a hometown girl. I grew up in Columbia and still consider it home. I have so many fond memories, from spending summers going to Lake Murray with my family to spending time with friends,” she remembers. “I’ll tell you the thing I miss the most about Columbia is the food! Somehow all of the Southern cooking just makes you feel warm and loved.”
A 1992 graduate of Columbia High School, Kimberly used her crown and national spotlight to further a cause she’d championed as a Columbia teen: battling homelessness. After her one-year reign ended, she went on to New York University, from which she graduated with a degree in accounting.
Today she is happily married and lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pa. She’s still involved in the pageant scene as regular contributor to Pageantry Today and as a celebrity judge at pageants.
“I’m mostly enjoying being Mom to my two children who are ages 7 and 9. I also enjoy still doing some public speaking, as well as hosting pageants and other events. It’s a crazy balancing act, but I love it,” she says.
Photo Courtesy of Betty Jackson
Rhett and Betty Jackson
Founders of The Happy Bookseller
When Rhett and Betty Jackson opened The Happy Bookseller on Forest Drive in 1974, it was the beginning of a Forest Acres and Columbia institution that continued on well past his tenure. “We’d been thinking about opening a bookstore for a long time. I’d always loved books,” Rhett says.
Happily ensconced in the same neighborhood location, the independent bookstore flourished. One of the biggest highlights from his time at the bookstore was people rather than books. Betty recalls, “It was always abuzz with authors, signings and customers talking about books they were reading or wanting to read.”
“We had so many book signings over the years. A lot of people came through our doors,” Rhett recalls. One author who visited the busy bookstore for several signings also presented the Jacksons with an American Booksellers Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. His name was Pat Conroy.
After more than three decades, the Jacksons sold the bookstore to a long-time employee. Betty says she continued to work for the new owner because of her love for books and for her long-time customers. These days, Rhett says he’s “not doing much of anything. Kind of loafing around except for a few meetings here and there.” One thing that hasn’t slowed down is his extensive reading list. “I’ve got a whole bookcase full of books I’ve read. I just finished reading Paul Krugman’s The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century. It was good — I liked it. I’ve also read all of C. S. Forester’s books,” he says.
Those profiled here may not have started out as Columbians, but each has earned a place in countless local hearts. Their contributions of talent, service or simply heartwarming friendship reverberate in our community today, and will continue to do so for generations to come.