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Remembering our captain, David Maybank, Jr.

February 5, 2020

For many Charlestonians and many well beyond the Custom House, there was not a more quietly significant person than David Maybank, Jr., because despite his gentle manner, he firmly lived by principle and a helping hand. Conversations with those who knew him evoke an image of a timeless man committed to doing things the right way. He energetically sought out a life full of adventure, often without fearing the consequences:  a problem posed the opportunity for a solution, an error the basis for learning something new. He committed his life to building up others. He knew business and was enamored by land; his lifelong romance with nature drove him to work on preserving the Lowcountry forever. Above all, he loved his family and his friends.

 

Like many Charleston children, David grew up sailing in the harbor. However, unlike most, he developed a passion that took him first across the Atlantic Ocean and then around the world. In 1992, he and Dr. William Middleton celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage by retracing the original route from Cadiz, Spain, to San Salvador Island, The Bahamas.

Three years later, in 1995, David and Benjamin Allston Moore, Jr. embarked on a circumnavigation voyage in the Lisbon ‘98 World Exposition Rally. Their 50’ Shannon ketch was named the Bon Ami in honor of Dr. Middleton who lost his battle with cancer prior to the trip. The Bon Ami departed Charleston on January 2, 1997, and sailed back into Charleston Harbor on April 28, 1998. Her voyage covered more than 27,500 miles with many stops to meet friends and say hello across the world.

 

On one such stop in Brazil, David noticed the locals squeezing sugarcane into a drink. He proceeded to buy one of the street corner mills and ship it back home where it was brought to Lavington Plantation. He became fascinated by the tradition of cane syrup production and its deep ties to the South.

 

Throughout the years, David acquired a cooking kettle and added a brick casing among other improvements. He studied the process and like many things, learned to do it better. Most importantly however, the whole cane syrup production provided an excuse to spend time with people. Ben Ferguson, caretaker at Lavington and close friend, did much of the work growing and pressing the sugarcane. The cooking process took about five hours, and many helping hands would gather near the kettle, skimming the bubbling top off of the hot juice. David’s wife and lifelong companion, Louise, would fix a delicious lunch, just in time to pour hot syrup over a cornbread muffin.

 

Jimmy Hagood recalls these times with his uncle as a prime example of how David gathered people together — multiple generations perpetuating tradition in the midst of the Lowcountry’s natural beauty. Jimmy says with gusto, “Because of him, we’ll continue doing the same thing for many years ahead.”

 

My grandmother, Nella Barkley, recalls exciting whitewater canoe trips with David and Louise and my late grandfather, Rufus. There was never a set plan, and they inevitably ran into difficulties, but she says, “One way or another, it always worked out.” David made similar memories with friends, like spontaneously hiking the Lewis and Clark Trail. When he had an idea, he focused in on it, and once he made up his mind, there was no changing it.

 

Nella says, “He had a wonderful sense of a good time, and he enjoyed bringing people together to appreciate where they were.” Whether it was a hiking trip, sailing expedition, or frequent gatherings at Lavington, David cultivated relationships around adventure and an understanding that sharing life is what truly matters.

 

David was an accomplished hunter, especially when it came to the wary wild turkey, and devoted to classic double guns, particularly Parkers, but, as he grew older, he found more delight in conservation and providing sporting opportunities to others than pulling the trigger. He had a group of seven friends called “The Sportsmen” who would assemble for the annual “Sportmen’s Weekend” at Lavington. They would also hunt and spend time frequently throughout the year. The group was extraordinary in its tenure, for it grew out of childhood and endured the rest of these men’s lives.

 

They enjoyed nature, talked business, planned trips, laughed and sat in silence. They were inextricably joined to one another — each man a link bound by memories. Gilly Dotterer, says of David, “He was full of honesty, integrity and love for his fellow man.” Who better to have in your circle?

 

Though David remained close to childhood friends, it was not to the exclusion of others. He intentionally brought people in. I have had the pleasure of spending every Thanksgiving at Lavington and have felt warmly welcomed each year. When we were young, we’d climb onto the “peach flat,” one of David’s beloved vintage cars outfitted with a wooden bed. David would drive us over dirt roads and under oak trees dressed in Spanish moss. And upon arriving back at the house, I would look around at the large collection of people gladly drawn in by David and Louise.

 

But his generosity didn’t end there. Besides helping a young man graduate college and find success in business, he quietly did similar things for other people. Nella Barkley says, “We will never know how many people he helped along the way, and he wouldn’t want us to.”

 

David was an extremely successful businessman, owning several businesses at a time. Palmer Gaillard remembers driving to the Maybank’s house on Meeting Street to discuss a job. When he pulled up, David greeted him at the front door, inviting him in and kindly not mentioning his loud beat-up Datsun. They subsequently worked together for 20 years and Palmer says, “As I got to know him, I recognized he was the true gentleman.” Later on, Palmer would find David in his workshop and recalls, “I would say, ‘any “free air” down here?’ He would just smile, ‘nothing free down here!’”

His funeral service took place on January 29 at Saint Philip’s Church. The church was packed with Charlestonians, friends from the University of Virginia and friends from far places. Jimmy Hagood, one of his nephews, read one of David’s favorite poems that spoke a resounding truth in time and place. The seventh stanza of Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” reads, “Lives of great men all remind us / We can make our lives sublime / And, departing, leave behind us / Footprints on the sands of time.” For seeing these footprints can help a forlorn brother take heart again. David seemed to unknowingly live this way and make his mark upon all those in his far-reaching circle. His kin and friends salute their captain.

 

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