The whir of the coffee beans roasting just over our shoulders kept us company throughout the interview. Behind us, Taylor was hard at work at Leopard Forest prepping the beans for our community’s collective addictions and I was sipping my London Fog.
Although we were dressed in business attire, I think our conversation felt more like friends gathering for coffee and sharing stories than a work meeting.
Pamela Evette has served as South Carolina’s Lt. Governor for the past four years (with a recent re-election for four more years) and she lives in Travelers Rest. She and her husband have raised their family on a farm in TR for the past twenty years or so. The family home and farm are next door to their business and when she’s not traveling throughout the state in her official capacity, you can definitely find her at home with her husband and three children and her 94 year old mother who also lives with the family.
“Everybody knows everybody,” Evette shared about TR. “That’s the beauty of small towns.” We joked about the added benefit of raising kids in small towns. “Yes, we really bonded over that,” Evette laughed. “I mean, in a small town, as a kid, all the parents knew one another. If you did something two blocks away, your parents probably knew about it before you got home.”
Her family’s farm is an operating horse farm and Evette said she still enjoys riding. “In fact, not long after I was sworn into office, I rode a horse in the Aiken Christmas Parade.” We shared a few stories of falling off horses, something we’ve both experienced and would rather not experience again, particularly as women over forty. As far as we both know, she’s the only female elected official in South Carolina to ride a horse in a parade – and, more importantly of course, Evette is the first female Republican Lieutenant Governor in our state of South Carolina. We’re proud she’s a local – and she’s proud to be one too.
Of course, TR continues to grow and to change – and has changed dramatically during the history of both Evette’s family life here and her personal and professional career. “Back when I moved here, downtown wasn’t really a downtown. It’s been so encouraging to see how everything has grown. The wonderful history that wraps around everything,” Evette said.
She believes the growth of Travelers Rest reflects the growth of the entire state. “I think the revitalization of the Main Street here in Travelers Rest is mirrored all over Main Streets in South Carolina.” She’s proud of TR – and we are too. Evette said she frequently talks about our shared small town’s growth and improvements. “The vision of the small shops, the Farmer’s Market – they’ve done a great job going back to their roots and finding their heritage. People are yearning to connect to that. It’s the best last stop before you go to the mountains.”
Evette and her husband have been working together for a lot of years in their family business and we talked about that impossibly elusive work-life balance. This is a challenge for every one of us, but living in the public eye brings its own set of challenges. “My daughter teases me about this – this idea of balance,” Evette laughed. She acknowledged the difficulty of being a parent while also being a business person and a politician. “When the kids were younger, I would turn off the job at 5 or whatever time,” Evette shared. “It was important to me to be there. Important to know that the kids were going to grow up and I could always chase the job but these years with the kids were going to pass quickly.”
Now, with her children becoming young adults, only one son is still in high school, her time is balanced differently but she still tries to follow a few simple practices with her time.
“Wherever I am, I work on being present.” At family dinners Evette says she puts the phone away. She’s talking to her son. She’s engaged with what’s in front of her. But she’s humble and honest too. “I don’t believe I have had the success of work life balance like some moms, but I do try my best to be present when I’m there.”
And – Evette readily admits she’s not doing this balancing game alone. She praises her husband for his role in their home life and in their business together. “I have been blessed – David is so supportive,” she said. “When you enter the political arena, you have to have your family behind you. Anyone who walks into this world and their family doesn’t want them there – I can only imagine how hard that is.” She spoke highly of the teamwork she and David have with parent conferences and lacrosse games and how she feels grateful that he always has her back. “You have to have a really good supportive husband who can just say – I got it, we can keep rolling with it.”
Evette spends her time between Columbia and TR – as well as the entire state of South Carolina. She’s present for the General Assembly sessions as often as possible. “There are times it is really important to be in Columbia,” she said, “But if there is something amazing happening in Charleston, then I want to be there. I really believe you can’t make anything better sitting in an office in Columbia. I am super hands on. I love getting my hands in the mix – connecting and asking questions.”
The connections she makes as she travels and meets the folks of South Carolina are what matter most to her. “We are diverse in our state and I want to be well informed and to help solve our issues. We are really intertwined though. The collaboration is what is so important to me. No one has the best idea. Instead, working together, we’ll come up with the best idea. We want everyone to come to the table,” Evette said.
Her weeks and days are always different – and she enjoys that. They also include a lot of driving – across the state in a day or whatever the job needs. Of course, because South Carolina has such geographical diversity, this ends up being a fun bonus of her job. “South Carolina has coast and mountains,” Evette smiled. “And you can have breakfast in the mountains and dinner at the coast in the same day – which is wonderful.”
The Lieutenant Governor particularly loves stopping at schools as she is traveling throughout the state – to meet teachers and students. Evette likes to use her visiting time at schools to read to the students. It’s her goal to maximize the time she spends in each location. “I really care – I really want to know what’s going on.” More than half of Evette’s time is spent traveling and speaking and she wants to make the most of each opportunity.
Remember our story last year about Emerging Teacher of the Year winner, local fifth grade school teacher Matt DeHart? He took his students on a trip to visit the capitol in Columbia and they had a chance to both tour the capitol and to meet Evette too.
Education holds a high value for Evette. She places a huge concentration on reading and Evette is passionate about school choice and giving parents power to put kids where they can best succeed.
And Evette isn’t concerned with only the traditional forms of education. “I’m eager to help folks see the value of technical colleges,” Evette shared, with a glow of enthusiasm for our topic. “My dad was a tool and dye maker. That put food on our table and a roof over our heads,” she shared with pride.
“When my own son was finishing high school and had no desire for traditional school, that’s when it clicked for me,” Evette shared. “Our temperature on technical colleges had changed. I want to challenge people to go back and to stop the stigma for tech schools and trade schools. I don’t want them to be seen as second rate options. We are losing a generation of kids who want to work with their hands. We have pushed them down a chute that says college is the only path to success. It’s like we overcorrected,” Evette continued. “I would like to really create an environment where we embrace our kids in trades. This is a great and noble profession – carpenters and farmers and electricians and more. It’s our job to play to the strengths of our kids.” Evette said she believes when people continue to share the stories of good folks in these various careers that the stigma will begin to break. “We have to do this together,” she said.
And Evette continues to do her part too.
“I want to be a positive role model,” Evette shared. It’s especially exciting to Evette when she has the opportunity to inspire young girls who want to pursue careers in politics and in business. “I once had a dad and his young daughter come to the capitol to meet me. I asked the dad why he had chosen to bring his daughter to my office,” Evette said. The father shared how every day on the way to take his daughter to school, they passed the capitol building. One day his daughter asked him, “Dad, do any ladies work in that building?” He knew right away that he wanted his daughter to meet one of the ladies who did indeed work in that building.
“Little girls are looking. They’re watching,” Evette said. “They are looking to see what they can do too. I want them to know there are no limits. They can be governor – or president! They can work hard and be whatever they want to be. Nothing stops you. You are the only thing that gets in your way.”
In all of my interviews, I like to ask a handful of fun and more lighthearted questions to get to know a person in a different way. This was no exception.
Here’s what I asked:
How do you spend a weekend with no plans?
As everyone in the family gets older, it’s hard to find activities that we all like. So if we had nothing to do on a weekend, we would probably go hiking, play golf at Cherokee Valley, cook out and be together at the pool. It would be low key and the important part would be that we are all together. I always tell my kids – at the end of the day, your family is who you can count on, so stick together.
What is on the near horizon for you personally?
Oh – to graduate Jackson from high school – he has three years left. And then to help get him on a good path for his future.
What’s your favorite meal?
I love spaghetti with a great bolognese sauce. That is my go to comfort food.
Name the last movie you watched.
I don’t watch a lot of movies – except Hallmark movies with my daughter. Maybe the last movie Amanda and I watched was Meet Me in St. Louis – I love those old movies.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee in the morning and then tea for the rest of the day.
What is your usual breakfast?
A cup of coffee.
What is the last book you read?
I reread The Obstacle is the Way recently and I read that on vacation. It’s really good and it talks about how there’s not one way to solve a problem. Sometimes when you hit a wall you should go around it or over it, instead of breaking that wall. It’s a book about determination and creating, despite challenges. I am also a sucker for a romance novel so that’s a good beach read – a cheesy romance, they always end happy. I cannot discount those dime store romance novels.
What do yours kids tease you about?
What don’t they tease me about? I’d say mostly they tease me that I talk to everyone. They say I have never met a stranger. I get that from my dad. The kids will tell me – Mom, you can meet a friend anywhere.
I found Evette to be sincere and direct. She cares about South Carolina, its economy, its diversity, its people.
“I want our kids to be proud South Carolinians, to be so proud of being from South Carolina,” she shared. “I talk a lot to people about South Carolina’s fingerprints. Sometimes we can take it for granted – how great this place is. For example, we are building more BMWs than anywhere in the world. That’s our fingerprints. We’re building boats in Charleston. Our fingerprints. We are building planes. Fingerprints of South Carolina. We make pharmaceuticals in the midlands that go all over the world. South Carolina fingerprints. I want to explain to our kids how proud they can be of where they live, how our South Carolina finger prints are all over.”