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The Catalyst

VP recalls aftermath of Hurricane Hugo

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

As Hurricane Hugo surged toward Charleston, state and city officials urged local residents to evacuate.

Jim Fisher, then MUSC’s executive director of Development and Alumni Affairs, released his staff and took his own family to Columbia. Upon returning on Saturday, Sept. 23, he went to his office in the Sebring–Aimar House, a stately Greek Revival–style home dating back to the early 1800s on the corner of Ashley Avenue and Calhoun Street. As he assessed the damage, two things vividly stood out in his mind.

“The flooring on the ground level was covered entirely in a thick layer of plough mud,” he said. “It was as slick as anything I’d ever seen. You had to walk like Mr. Tudball on the Carol Burnett show not to slip and fall. In my office, the sheer force of the water had hurled everything into a pile in one corner: furniture, desks, chairs, tables, lamps, files - all of it destroyed. I noticed a waterline; it measured over three feet high.”

Next, Fisher called everyone on his team to check on them. He wanted to make sure everyone was safe and get some sense of the kind of damage, loss or injury they had sustained. He then made an executive decision: He gave the entire team the next week off. “Don’t even worry about coming in for a week,” he told them. “Take care of your business so that when we get back in here, you’re not overwhelmed.”  

As he surveyed the campus, most striking to Fisher was the damage that St. Luke’s Chapel, MUSC’s most recognizable icon, sustained.

“St. Luke’s Chapel was a very visual and visceral reminder of what happened. The wind literally lifted the roof off of the building, and then it smashed back down on top of itself. Pieces of the stained–glass window were all over Ashley Avenue.  Interestingly, the chapel was the very last thing on campus to be fixed, so, for a year and a half, you were hit with the memory of Hugo. It served as a constant reminder of having made it through — of having prevailed. Charlestonians are very resilient. It was amazing how quickly everyone worked together to get to this institution back up to speed.”

Fisher to this day remembers the remarkable leadership MUSC President James B. Edwards, D.M.D., displayed during and after the storm. “It started with the fact that he and Ann spent the night here — that meant a lot to people. After the storm, he always looked forward. His message was, ‘It’s business as usual’ which actually was a very strong statement. His high expectations were that we would bounce back quickly, and we all followed his leadership by example.”

Fisher chaired the committee responsible for raising the money necessary to restore the chapel and replace the organ that was destroyed in the storm.  Even a quarter of a century later, when he sits in a pew surrounded by stained–glass windows and people appreciating the beauty of the chapel, he is reminded that every cloud, no matter how dark, has its silver lining.

December 11, 2014

 

 
 
 

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