As I sit here on this New Year’s Eve and reflect on the past year in Charleston, I am immediately thankful for the blessings in my life. My parents, 83 and 85 are still a vibrant part of my life and I am fortunate  to have them live near me here in Charleston. That wasn’t always the case. My children are living happy and productive lives…always a good thing! I am also blessed to be able to earn a living doing what I absolutely love to do every day.

Some of us this past year didn’t fare so well. I still say a prayer when I pass by the Mother Emanuel Church on Calhoun Street and I am always overcome with the grief and shock of what happened there on June 17th. Nine parishioners were gunned down and lost their lives in their house of God. These are our streets…this is our town. When a community experiences such a tragic event, one can only ask how will it respond and what happens next? Will this become the next Ferguson, will riots brake out for days like in Baltimore? Will the media and national figures incite hate when a wounded community needs to heal? How Charleston responded as a united city makes me so proud and was a profound moment in my life. We are still strong but the wounds are still deep. Deep enough that it changed a deeper slice of our southern history; the Confederate Battle Flag. It was removed from the statehouse grounds in Columbia following the Mother Emanuel shootings. The flag had been a point of controversy for decades, flying atop the capitol dome since 1961 before it was relocated to a nearby Confederate war memorial in 2000. After the state Senate’s vote to place the flag in the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum and a marathon debate among the members of the House, Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law on July 10 using nine pens that were then given to the families of those killed in the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel.

Mother Nature visited Charleston in October…in a BIG way. We experienced a more than usual rainy season….we all complained but nobody expected the sequence of events. Johns Island was hit by a tornado with 130-mph winds wreacking havoc cutting a 7-mile-long swath of splintered centuries-old oak trees, leveling a home and damaging 80 others, and sending mailboxes, plywood and boats flying through the air. No one was seriously hurt. Another blessing for sure. But, SHE was not done! For days at the beginning of October, it seemed as if it would never stop raining. Creeks and rivers swelled and city streets continued to fill with water as Charleston experienced the effects of what meteorologists called a 1,000-year flood event. The record-breaking amounts of rainfall were enough to temporarily close the Charleston peninsula and ravage communities as dams and roadways failed. Shelters across the state filled with those who lost their homes to rising waters, and after four days, some parts of the Charleston area had experienced more than two feet of rain. Finally, the clouds parted and residents were able to return home to pick up the pieces following the storm, but with at least 17 deaths reported and more than $1 billion in damage, the lasting effects of the flood are still being felt.

Mayor Joseph P Riley who had a vision for Charleston 40 years ago and served to improve and revitalize Charleston, stepped down as our mayor. Riley’s first major project was pushing the redevelopment of the central downtown business district. From there his contribution and service to this community is legendary.

With many of these events still fresh in our minds, Charleston still remains impenetrable and strong. Our economy remains powerful and growth is at an all time high. Companies like Boeing, Daimler Mercedes, Volvo, Bosch, Google, Blackbaud, Blue Acorn and many others now call the Charleston area home. So many tech companies have moved here that Charleston is now known as “Silicon Harbor”. At last count approximately 50 people a day are moving here. And you cannot live here and not know that Charleston’s warm southern hospitality, amazing array of acclaimed restaurants, and charming atmosphere had Travel and Leisure ranking Charleston the No. 1 City in the U.S. and Canada for the third consecutive year. Charleston also ranked No. 2 City on the list of Top 10 Cities in the World in the annual readers’ poll. The announcement was shared on NBC’s TODAY Show on July 7. This marks the third consecutive year that Charleston has been named a top North American travel destination by readers of the leading national magazine.

So, as I reflect on this past year, I am proud to call Charleston my home and look forward to an amazing 2016! Charleston Strong!