By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
Since I arrived to work for this newspaper one year ago, I have discovered that there are two Linda Lovvorn Tuckers. There is the perfectly coiffed Isle of Palms City Administrator, wearing her signature blazer, strategic smile, and employing a firm but friendly tone to keep any number of city meetings on track. Then there is ‘Foxy’ Linda, grandmother to four girls (who gifted her the nickname), amateur photographer, lover of long, stress-relieving beach walks and bright, bold interior paint colors.
“It’s meant to be the colors of a beach ball,” Linda explains as she ushers me into her City Hall office decorated in the most brilliant blue imaginable and complemented by dazzling yellow in the reception area. “After all we’re by the sea!”
These little touches give you some insight into the second Linda, the person behind the ultra-professional mask of City Administrator. In honor of her recent recognition by the International Association of City Administrators for 30 years of service to local government, I sat down with her to find out a little more about the lady who has spent 23 of those years managing two barrier islands off the coast of Charleston, Sullivan’s Island (Town Administrator 1991 – 2000) and Isle of Palms (City Administrator 2000 – present).
“The two communities have lots of similarities and they’re very different too,” Linda says. “There are things that make Sullivan’s Island very special and things that make Isle of Palms very special. In many ways it’s good that those differences exist.”
Linda is probably in the best position of any island resident to answer the often asked question, why is it the two islands are so different? “I think it’s their history,” she says.
“As I recall Sullivan’s Island was originally a Fort installation. It had a very small commercial component and historically people came from the City of Charleston by ferry to summer there. It was a military installation and then a residential retreat, it developed that way.
“Isle of Palms was originally a destination for tourism. People got on the trolley and rode it all the way to Front Beach, where there were steeplechases, the Ferris wheel, and a big hotel. It was a destination for fun activities, before it was a residential community.”
The residential part came later, Linda explains. “The vision for it was affordable homes for veterans returning from WWII. The original homes that were built were little 2 bed / 1 bath, and advertised as ‘Return from war and use your VA to purchase one of these homes.’
“Once that development started happening, these families moved in and realized what a great place it is to raise a family and then more and more development came. So, Isle of Palms has always had both, it has always had the residential family component and the tourism component.”
Linda chose to raise her own family on IOP with her husband, Al Tucker. They have a daughter, Mary Paige, and a son, Allen Jr. She has nothing but praise for the process.
“I don’t think there’s a way better (to raise a family). Maybe it’s because it’s all I know, I was raised in a coastal environment myself (coastal Georgia). The beach and the waterways are a wonderful playground,” she says.
Raising a family and running a town aren’t naturally compatible professions however, and Linda freely admits the job is a huge burden on family. As the daughter of a city administrator herself, she has memories of sleeping on the floor at city hall during emergencies.
“[This isn’t just a career] it is a commitment,” she says. “The perception that it is an 8-5 job is not what it is, it’s a 24 hour commitment. It requires a family that understands that commitment and is proud of it. I’ve had to leave my family on Christmas Day in the middle of present opening and they’ve understood.”
Linda recalls one time when she was so intensely busy during a crisis that checking in with her own family had slipped her mind.
“My daughter was in middle school or high school and I got this message ‘ET Phone Home?’ She just needed to hear that mom was ok. It made me realize my family can be having as much anxiety about me as I am making sure the community is OK.”
During her two decades working for the islands there have been many achievements, and a few disappointments to reflect on. Linda’s office is chock full of plaques, pictures, trinkets and mementoes of those times. But her favorite is her bronzed jugs.
Before Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989 there hadn’t been potable water on the island and residents, including Linda, would take milk jugs and other containers to filling stations to get drinking water to their homes. The devastation the hurricane wrought on the water system made it imperative for the islands to develop a new water and sewer system, and it may as well bring with it fresh water. Numerous scenarios were explored none of which made any fiscal or practical sense.
Then one day Linda was on the phone with a Charleston Water Systems employee lamenting the situation. She said offhandedly, “Well it’s practically spitting distance from Sullivan’s to Charleston, can’t you just come under the harbor?” Apparently, no one had thought of that before, and luck would have it that the technology to do so had just been invented.
Six years and one endangered clam family relocation later and fresh water began flowing from James Island under Charleston Harbor to the islands.
On the day of the official “opening” someone asked Linda what she wanted for her role in this achievement. She responded jokingly “I want my water jugs bronzed.” And so on the wall of her office is one of her old milk jugs, as bronze as Han Solo. At 63, Linda has passed the eligible age for retirement, but the thought hasn’t really crossed her mind.
“I still have so much I want to do. There’s a lot of work,” she says. “The marina needs attention, we still have the parking situation that needs to be resolved, there’s quite a bit of beautification that can still be done. I’d love to see more undergrounding of power lines, and those are just the things about which I am aware.”