By Paul Gable
Bill Darby was a man who lived a full life according to his own rules.
The song “I Did It My Way” is certainly a complete description of his approach to life. That life ended Wednesday October 15, 2014.
For nearly 60 years, Darby was the publisher of Coast and Alternatives magazines in Horry County. He brought the concept of tourist oriented magazines to the largest tourist destination in South Carolina.
He was a political maverick, one of three men who, together, can claim to have founded the Horry County Republican Party. As Bill liked to say he was a Republican when the Horry County Republican Party could hold meetings in a telephone booth.
Darby branched out into other areas of the Horry County business scene, but he was always a publisher first.
He was a publisher of the old school, one who believed the story was most important as any reader of Alternatives through the years can attest. If he knew printing a certain story was going to cost him advertising dollars, he published the story anyway.
But, first to me, Bill Darby was my friend. I enjoyed his wit, his courage, his determination and his companionship.
The light is a bit dimmer in Horry County now that Bill has passed, but his memory will always be with us.
Below is a reprint of a Citizen of the Week profile on Bill that I wrote for Carolina Weekly approximately 18 months ago:
Citizen of the Week
By Paul Gable
Bill Darby got ink in his blood while at Clemson University as a staff member of both TAPS, the official yearbook of Clemson, and The Tiger News, while he majored in history and minored in English.
“I enjoyed everything about the newspaper business from writing and selling ads to the actual printing of the paper,” Darby said.
After graduating from Clemson in 1950, Darby worked for a marketing firm for a short time until the Korean War interrupted his business life. Having been an ROTC cadet during his college years, Darby was a reserve lieutenant in the reserves until called to active duty in 1952. He wound up in Ft. Bliss, Texas with an assignment in anti-aircraft artillery.
“You hear a lot about drones in the last 10 years,” Darby said. “I flew the first drones that the Army ever put in service.”
The drones Darby flew were targets for anti-aircraft artillery practice. After learning the basics at Ft. Bliss, he commanded the 64th RCAP Co. in Japan for approximately 18 months before being released from the Army with a service-connected illness.
“I was in the hospital in my last two weeks of recovery when I called about a job with a weekly newspaper in Conway,” Darby said. “I arrived in Conway five days after Hurricane Hazel hit to take the job as advertising manager for the Horry Herald.”
Darby worked two years with the Horry Herald, increasing its ad revenue by 800 percent in that time. He decided to strike out on his own.
“I thought if I could do that for somebody else, I was better off starting my own business and doing it for myself,” he said.
He moved to Myrtle Beach and founded COAST magazine, which quickly became a 125-page full color, slick weekly magazine aimed at the tourist trade.
“Myrtle Beach had about two and one-half million tourists at the time and nobody was doing any real marketing to them,” Darby said. “COAST stepped into the void. I sold my first ad to Edward Burroughs and took off from there.”
Ten years later, Darby added Alternatives Magazine, a cultural and arts publication aimed at both the growing local population as well as tourists. A member of Magazine Publishers of America, International Federation of the Periodical Press and the Grand Strand Press Association, he received 43 press awards including two for overall Excellence in Newspaper Writing and Magazine Writing, and the Myrtle Beach Ad Club’s first Silver Medal Award.
“I got to Myrtle Beach at the right time and I understood advertising and marketing,” Darby said. “It was a helluva ride.”
It was not just publishing that kept Darby busy. Through the years, he started six different corporations, including the first one-stop telephone reservation service for hotels and motels in the area called Reserve Ease. He was an instrumental part of a group of businessmen who advocated moving the area’s only commercial air service from the North Myrtle Beach airport to what is now Myrtle Beach International.
“What we called air service was Piedmont flying three DC-3s a week into North Myrtle Beach,” Darby said. “We knew we needed real airport facilities if we wanted to use air service to increase tourism.”
He also became involved in politics. “Al Tirrell, myself and two other guys started the Republican Party in Horry County back in the time when there were very few Republicans in the entire South,” Darby said. “We held our first meeting in a phone booth in Conway.”
While the party was still in its infant stages in Horry County, Darby coordinated the public relations for the gubernatorial campaign of James B. Edwards in 1975. Edwards was the first Republican governor elected in South Carolina since Reconstruction.
“We worked hard and took advantage of some opportunities that presented themselves,” Darby said. “It was still very hard to defeat a Democrat but we won by a few thousand votes.”
Recently having celebrated his 85th birthday, Darby is retired from business, but has many fond memories of his nearly 60 years as a publisher and businessman in Horry County.
“I’ve had a great ride and lived a great life,” he said. “I can’t complain a bit.”