Johnnie Dodds: The Man Who Had a Plan

The Dodds family at the dedication of Johnnie Dodds Boulevard. Left to right: Robert Dodds, Joan Dodds, Flo Dodds, John Dodds III, Marilyn Davey, Mayor Johnnie Dodds, Carolyn Nason and Cathy Joyner.
The Dodds family at the dedication of Johnnie Dodds Boulevard. Left to right: Robert Dodds, Joan Dodds, Flo Dodds, John Dodds III, Marilyn Davey, Mayor Johnnie Dodds, Carolyn Nason and Cathy Joyner.

Johnnie Dodds Boulevard is the workhorse of Mount Pleasant’s infrastructure. The roughly three-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 17 from the Ravenel Bridge to the Mark Clark Expressway hosts tens of thousands of cars daily and, after a major improvement project completed in 2013, looks great doing it.

But a transportation corridor – or anything, for that matter – bearing the name of the former Mount Pleasant mayor had better be impressive.

Dodds was in the town’s top office from 1976 to 1984, and his leadership helped bring Little League, the Charleston County Library System, a hospital and more East of the Cooper.

He also spurred Mount Pleasant’s first land-use master plan and zoning ordinances, prompting The Post and Courier on more than one occasion to refer to him as the “mayor who prepared the town for unprecedented growth.”

“My father had a vision for the town where families flourished and all its citizens enjoyed a good quality of life,” said John Dodds, Johnnie’s son and a Mount Pleasant attorney.

Mount Pleasant’s boom over the past three decades indicates a mission accomplished in that regard.

SETTING UP FOR SUCCESS

New Mayor Johnnie Dodds is sworn into office by Judge Thomas Lowndes. His wife, Flo Dodds, stands witness.
New Mayor Johnnie Dodds is sworn into office by Judge Thomas Lowndes. His wife, Flo Dodds, stands witness.

Even a brief glimpse of Dodds’ life and record reveals an impressive prescience in at least two key areas: identifying future public needs and talent in others – a pair of skills essential for municipal leaders.

A case in point: Both of Dodds’ sons, John and Robert, mentioned the hiring of staffers Joel Ford and Colleen Jernigan in the 1970s as particular highlights for their father. Jernigan, who long served in the town Finance Department, was so relied on that former Town Administrator Mac Burdette called her the most important town employee during her 28-year career.

Ford, meanwhile, was integral to the first master plan development. He also went on to create the Old Village Historic Commission and Mount Pleasant Design Review Board, worked on the annexation of Dunes West and helped institute development impact fees, which have kept town tax rates among the state’s lowest.

“Dad had a knack for hiring talented young people to important positions,” Robert Dodds said.

Of course, Johnnie Dodds’ nurturing of talent was evident well before his time with the town. He once coached a young ballplayer named Joe Riley, who turned out to be a pretty good mayor himself across the Cooper River.

GETTING STUFF DONE

With issues identified and support staff in place, Dodds’ aptitude for uniting others behind his vision was a critical last step for success.

“He had an uncanny ability to bring people together,” said John Dodds, referencing a Town Council that included former Mayor Billy Swails, attorney Skipper Wooddy and Jimmy Bagwell, who has of late made waves as the public face of the Save Shem Creek organization.

Together that group, along with town staff, worked on the comprehensive master plan designed to balance then-anticipated growth brought on by the completion of the Mark Clark Expressway and the migration of people to the Southeastern coast.

“As a teenager watching my dad serve as mayor, it was clear even to me that he had a vision for the town. He wanted to improve the quality of life of all its citizens. He also was keenly aware of the timing of things going on in and around the town,” Robert Dodds said. “As much as I enjoyed my life growing up in the very small town of Mount Pleasant, Dad saw that things were missing which could enhance our community for its residents. He saw needs, and, as he would say to me, he did all that he could, ‘to do the most good for the most people.’”

With more people than ever in Mount Pleasant, the opportunity is ripe to do just that.

“I’m sure if he were alive today,” John Dodds said of his father, “he would encourage our elected officials to work together to solve what are clearly complex and difficult issues in an effort to enhance the quality of life for all its citizens.”

MAN WITH A PLAN

Mayor Johnnie Dodds and Tommy Grimes, seated, enjoy a Mount Pleasant Recreation Department baseball game.
Mayor Johnnie Dodds and Tommy Grimes, seated, enjoy a Mount Pleasant Recreation Department baseball game.

Johnnie Dodds was born in Charleston in 1918, served in the Navy in World War II and spent a career at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, eventually rising to the level of nuclear production manager before retiring at a relatively young age.

Prior to, during and after his stint as mayor, he contributed his time to a comically long list of boards and organizations, including a stint as president of the South Carolina Municipal Association and as a founding member and chairman of the board of the East Cooper Community Hospital.

He also helped secure health insurance and retirement benefits for town employees through the state retirement system, and he founded the Mount Pleasant Scholarship Foundation.

And the man even had a catchphrase, greeting everyone with, “Hey, coach.”

If ever anyone had a road naming coming their way, it was Johnnie Joseph Dodds.

“My father was deeply honored when Town Council and state officials determined to name that portion of what was then referred to as ‘Highway 17 Bypass’ in his honor,” John Dodds said. “For our family, it is a reminder of our beloved father and just how much he truly loved this town.”

When he passed away on Dec. 31, 2009, at the age of 91, Johnnie Dodds was survived by his wife of 61 years, Florine Gunnells Dodds, six children and their spouses, 15 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

That’s a pretty good master plan.

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