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S.C. Gives Highest Civilian Honor To Principal Who Got A Walmart Job To Help Students

"I am very appreciative of my mother, who had no shame in helping her child to become a teacher," said North Charleston High School Principal Henry Darby, who cited his mother's sacrifices made his life's work possible.
"I am very appreciative of my mother, who had no shame in helping her child to become a teacher," said North Charleston High School Principal Henry Darby, who cited his mother's sacrifices made his life's work possible.

It was supposed to be a secret, a quiet way to support people who desperately need help. But word got out about what North Charleston High School Principal Henry Darby was doing – and the state has now presented him with its highest civilian honor.

Darby took on a part-time job at Walmart, stocking shelves from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., three nights every week. He's been using the paychecks from that work to help make sure kids from his school have food and basic supplies, or help their families pay their bills. Some money has also gone to former students who need help, or to teachers at his school who need a boost.

"Principal Darby personifies the best of South Carolina, a selfless person who goes above and beyond for others," Gov. Henry McMaster said on Tuesday. "It was an honor to present him with the Order of the Palmetto yesterday," the governor added.

Darby already has two jobs: In addition to being a principal, he serves on the Charleston County Council. But his drive to help others led him to take a third job. So, he started working at Walmart last August. His sacrifice was widely noted in January, when the local Post and Courier newspaper ran a story about him.

"I decided to get another job because the kids, they really need help," Darby told the paper, which noted that despite Darby's efforts to stay under the radar, one of his students recognized him on the first night he worked at Walmart. His shifts ended just in time for him to drive to North Charleston High before morning classes started.

In the weeks since people realized how much Darby was doing to help others, many have stepped forward both to praise him and to help him raise money for families who need it. Walmart gave his school a $50,000 check. Together, two crowdfunding pages devoted to his cause have raised more than $195,000.

Darby has said his generosity reflects his own struggles, including the loss of his father at a young age and his mother when he was in college. At those times, others stepped in to help him – and from his childhood on, Darby was used to working multiple jobs to get by.

On Monday, he recalled going with his mother to collect milk and soda bottles from the roadside, hoping to save money to help pay for his education. He talked of trips to the dump, not to throw things away, but to find anything that could help them get by.

All along the way, Darby said, his mother constantly bragged to her friends, "My son is going to become a teacher."

That journey came full circle on Monday, as Darby was honored by the governor outside the school he leads — and which sits near the street where he and his mother used to visit the dump.

The principal described a day at the dump when he was around 6 or 7 years old, and his mother told him to grab a piece of white cloth from a pile. After he hesitated – the cloth was stinky and gooey, Darby remembers – his mother acted.

"I saw my mother put her hand in all that filth and gunk," Darby said. "And she got that piece of cloth, took it home, boiled it in a kettle in the back yard, and made a shirt" for him to wear to school, he said.

As he spoke, Darby reached down and held the long-sleeve white shirt up, adding that he wore it two or three times every week, from 8th to 11th grade.

"I am very appreciative of my mother, who had no shame in helping her child to become a teacher," Darby said.

While his mother died before she could see her dreams for him fulfilled, he added, they still became reality because of her hardship and sacrifices.

Less than two weeks after The Post and Courier ran its story about Darby, the Today show came to North Charleston's football stadium, for a feature segment on the school principal.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a remarkable man," McMaster said of Darby on Monday. As he presented the Order of the Palmetto to the principal, the governor cited Darby's accomplished career – ranging from teaching in middle school through to the university level – and his drive to educate and help others.

It takes more than achieving a high degree of excellence to earn the honor, McMaster said, adding that it's meant for those who have a broad impact on others.

"I don't know if all of us will accomplish what Henry Darby has, but we can all accomplish something," McMaster said. "And although we may not all influence the hundreds or perhaps thousands of young people and others that he has influenced, we can all influence some."

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