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By George McDaniel
One of my pleasures in my first ten or fifteen years of working at Drayton Hall was the chance to work with Gene Heizer, our remarkable volunteer photographer. Gene was sui generis. He was devoted to Drayton Hall and enjoyed the company of our staff, volunteers, and site council. In one year alone, he contributed close to 200 hours of service. He consistently took excellent photographs for our newsletters, press releases, brochures, ads, and archives, and did so in ways that lifted our spirits. In the days before digital photography, his work saved us countless hours as well as dollars. Not only did he take the pictures, he processed the film, made the contact sheets, filed the negatives, printed the photographs, and created exhibits for special events and other purposes. A retired commercial photographer, he had a good eye and would carefully compose his shots so they would communicate the intended message. Through his fine work, Gene contributed substantially to documenting, preserving, and communicating our recent history, which as the years pass, become all the more an integral part of the ongoing story of this site. In fact, Gene’s photographs remain very much a part of our archives and will serve well those who follow us.
Gene recently passed away at age 90. He and his lovely wife Phyllis had been married for 59 years, and she too had been a devoted volunteer for Drayton Hall, especially helping with public relations and special events. I attended his funeral in the chapel at Franke at Seaside, a retirement community in Mount Pleasant, SC, and offered to Phyllis the respects and condolences from all of us at Drayton Hall. In attendance were a number of former staff and volunteers who had worked here with Gene. His long-time friend, Harold Robling, also a long-time Friend of Drayton Hall, gave a heartfelt “remembrance.” In his homily, The Rev. Canon Michael Wright, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, captured Gene’s spirited character. He began by saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” a fact that Gene knew well and to which his photographs attested. He summarized Gene’s outlook on life in two words, “faithfulness and purposefulness” and elaborated on how Gene’s life represented each word. He also let the congregation know that he knew Gene well, for he told of how Gene’s presence filled a room and of how his absence now leaves a void – and also told how that void may be filled by the love that Gene knew and that connects us all.
Both Gene and Phyllis were a lot of fun to be with and to us all, stood as wonderful testimony to a lasting marriage and to one that worked in real life. We remember Gene fondly and are so glad he was a part of our lives and of the history of Drayton Hall.