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Betsy Altman: A Legacy of Community Love and Family Roots

Betsy Altman grew up in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, until her move to Greensboro, North Carolina, where she graduated from Elon University with a B.A. in Public Administration. She always loved meeting and talking with people, so she knew she wanted to pursue a career where she worked closely with helping others. After college, she moved to Pawleys Island with her family because of her father’s job at the Georgetown Steel Mill.

Betsy quickly got involved with Real Estate. One of Betsy’s parents’ friends decided to set her up on a blind date with a local Real Estate agent, Alan. One night at a cocktail party, Betsy’s friend invited both of them and claimed it was for business purposes. Betsy’s friend even brought a fake contract for him to “look over,” but needless to say, they hit it off. The two went for lunch the next day at the Pawleys Island Inn (now known as Local), got married a year later, and had three wonderful children: Sarah, Casey, and Alex.

In 1984, Betsy started working for Pawleys Island Realty in the rental department. Her position evolved over the years as she worked her way from rental manager to broker and partner. After Betsy’s father-in-law passed away, she bought out his share and has been the sole owner of the company since 2018. Betsy and Alan’s kids would make bookmarks from popsicle sticks. They would set up a little table where all the customers would check in to greet them and guests would give them the best tips for their bookmarks. Casey would help deliver linens and Alex would make boiled peanuts for the guests. Sarah liked to help out in the office and now, she works in the marketing division and handles social media. Their business has always been a family affair.

It is an understatement to say that Betsy loves her work. She explains, “I think one reason we have been in business for so long is because of our personal relationships with our guests and owners. There is nothing I love more than when they come in and we get to catch up about their lives. I adore when people tell us what they are doing here. For example, every year this group from Virginia of about 80-120 people visit and rent out 20 or so houses. They have a huge bocce ball tournament, and everyone brings their college decal. When it’s down to the last two, whoever loses has to put the winner’s college decal on their car for a year until the next tournament. I love learning about our guest’s traditions.”

Next year is Pawleys Island Realty’s 60th anniversary and they have been working with the same families for that many decades. It used to be the grandparents, then the parents, and now their grandchildren. The value of tradition is monumental for Betsy. She believes it’s extremely essential for younger generations to learn where they came from and to understand their history. When she met Alan’s Grandmother for the first time, the first question she asked Betsy was, “who is your family?” In the south especially, a fundamental part of who you are is knowing your roots and as a parent, Betsy strongly feels that it is important to not let those family traditions die.

Betsy believes and hopes that she has instilled the importance of traditions within her children. She explains, “We are very attuned to our traditions. I am on the board of directors for the Pawleys Island Chapel, and Alan used to take up offering when he was little, then my girls did it, and then we would always have family lunch. Your family is what makes you and it’s the traditions that keep us together.” She also says the best advice she has given them is to treat everyone the way you want to be treated and to always be respectful, honest, and to learn to take the high road. Betsy exclaims, “Taking the high road is not always the easiest thing to do, sometimes it’s the absolute hardest thing to do, but it’s definitely the right thing to do.”

The two biggest pieces of advice that stuck with Betsy from her own mother are to always be the best you can be and to always learn new things. She also taught her the value of handwritten thank you notes, which need to be sent no later than two weeks, but especially for grandparents, those notes are first priority! “Less is best” is a concept that took Betsy a little longer to grasp. As a teenager, Betsy’s mother was referring to clothes, but Betsy now understands it has an even bigger meaning. She feels that most people spend the early part of life accumulating things and the latter part of life decluttering. If Betsy has an afternoon off, the last words she would ever say are “I’m gonna go shopping.” If she has to shop for gifts, she does it locally at places like Pawleys Island Wear and Litchfield Books. As most of us feel who make our way to the beach life, she much prefers the simpler, but still finer things of life. Betsy would rather spend her afternoons planting in her garden, walking her dog, paddle boarding, bike riding, or doing anything outside in the sunshine.

Just like material things, “less is best” can be considered the same for many other parts of life. Betsy has a ton of wonderful acquaintances but is only fully open with a select few, the friends who have been there for her through thick and thin. Betsy believes that having a small group of very close friends is imperative. She says, “One of my best friends has been in my life for 35 years and our children are best friends too. It’s such a blessing to have people there for you and your whole family. My kids can call them for advice and their thoughts just as they would me. It’s not always blood that you make you family.” When Betsy and her friends get together, they mostly spend quality time together on the porch or dock catching up over a glass of wine. They also go for walks in Brookgreen Gardens or on Huntington Beach. Betsy clarifies, “We aren’t always having wine and we’re not always doing something extravagant; we just enjoy each other’s company and that’s special in itself.”

While Betsy is always there for her family, friends, and clients, she is also a pillar of the community. Her company donates a lot to local charities, food banks, and primarily anything with children and those in need. They also support Sharing Hope of SC which is for donor recipients. Casey was a strong advocate for their types of services and when she passed in 2018, she helped many families. The Altman family is a big supporter of the St. Francis Humane Society where Casey worked for a while. The family also does a lot with Waccamaw High School and they provide a couple of scholarships including one for a tennis player in Casey’s memory.

When I asked Betsy how her role as a mother has shaped her as a person, she responded with: “I don’t know that it has changed me so much as it has brought out personality traits that weren’t really visible before. I think I’ve always been a nurturing person deep down, so mothering for me came easy.” She laughed as she said, “until they became teenagers, then I let Alan handle it. We always put our children first, I still do, and the same with the grandchildren. I realize that I’m not in control and that I am only able to react because you realize your life really isn’t your own. First, it seems like it’s all about you, then your marriage, then your kids, then you sort of settle into an advisor role. It’s still nice to be needed even though your relationship with your children changes. I actually think as we get older, our connection gets stronger and deeper.”

As far as Mother’s Day traditions, the family spends the day together outside. Sarah’s kids are 2 and 5 and they like to travel by kayak to the sand bar near her home to play. Betsy says, “I love being a grandmother, it’s the best thing – they call me B! We decorate and do lots of crafts. As long as we are together, we don’t care. It’s nice after a busy day to unwind, look at the creek, and be surrounded by family. It centers you. You can’t take care of your work and everyone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself. I have a lot of ideas at work and for my life, I want to be here for a long time.”

Betsy balances her work and family life by focusing on the moment while simultaneously projecting months in advance. She explains, “Like being a mother, you have to learn to multitask and communicate often. You have to coordinate your time frame well and know your goals and needs. You have to learn how to roll with the punches life throws you. You must have your friends, family, and faith to get through it. Your life always evolves.” Betsy understands what stresses her and feels fortunate to be able to destress in nature while being surrounded by her loved ones. As we finished our interview by reflecting upon all that we are grateful for, Betsy smiled and said, “Plus, how great is it that we are able to wear flip flops to work?” Betsy is truly a woman who does it all, and she does so with much grace, love, and compassion.

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