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Commission hopes to carry on former chairwoman’s tradition

During its first meeting since the passing of Mary Jane Vanderwilt, Charleston’s Municipal Beautification Commission and Tree Board shared fond memories of their longstanding chairwoman, describing her as “influential” and “impressive.”

“I always thought that she was somebody to certainly be very respected,” Vice-chairwoman Amy McLaughlin said. “I loved the way she carried herself with such confidence and had so much knowledge about the city, not just beautification but the city in general after all her time on city council.”

McLaughlin is serving as chairwoman temporarily until nominations to fill the position are made. She told commission members Tuesday she won’t be able to take on the position permanently.

“I am happy to serve through the transition,” McLaughlin said. “I can get the commission completely up to date. So I’ll take care of those reports so that the new chair doesn’t have to walk in and take care of any past work.”

Vanderwilt was passionate about her work on the beautification commission and highly knowledgeable about the city, which was evident to members.

“I was so moved by her knowledge of the history of Charleston, more so than anyone. I’ve lived here since ’84 and no one has known the knowledge that she knew,” Beth Loflin said.

Vanderbilt died unexpectedly in May after a short illness. She served on city council for decades and was also recognized as an unofficial historian of Charleston government. She was 85.

McLaughlin said calling Vanderwilt committed to the commission was “putting it mildly.” She said Vanderwilt was meticulous in her record keeping for the commission

“Nothing got by her,” McLaughlin said. “She was very curious to know how programs were working, how money was being spent. She just did such a good job with that kind of stuff.”

Part of the commission’s duties include handling trees within the city limits, and it’s one that hasn’t been well understood, McLaughlin said. If someone wanted to cut down a tree, it “was a big deal.”

“We looked at it. We talked to the property owner to see what the issue was. If there wasn’t a visible problem, like if the tree wasn’t obviously diseased or hazardous, we would call a forester to come look at the tree,” McLaughlin said. “That was a part of her job nobody saw.”

McLaughlin hopes the commission will be able “to carry on in her tradition.”

Reach Rachel Molenda at or 304-348-5102.

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