PETER AND PATTI MCGEE

Among Charleston's last late-20th and early-21st century preservationists, Peter and Patti McGee were two of Charleston's most memorable civic leaders of their day.

An SOB attorney, Joseph Halstead "Peter" McGee, was a dynamic leader particularly through his advocacy with Historic Charleston Foundation. According to a Post & Courier editorial (April 27, 2024), he was a preservationist whose generous donations and keen understanding of Charleston’s history and architectural gems helped shape what the Holy City looks and feels like today."

A patron of the arts, Patti was known not only locally, but also nationally for her love of gardening and as a founder of the Lowcountry Garden Club and Charleston Horticultural Society. They were married for 62 years and had two daughters, both of whom also became philanthropic and community leaders.

In 1977, Gian Carlo Menotti, founder and artistic director of Spoleto, asked the couple if they would open their Church Street home to chamber musicians after performances next door at the Dock Street Theater. Thereafter, for nearly 20 years, the McGees hosted daily wine and cheese receptions throughout the Festival. They also hosted musicians including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist and conductor Joshua Bell, and famed playwright Tennessee Williams. Patti served on the Spoleto board, and in 2017, she and Peter were recipients of the Mary Ramsay Civic Award, in recognition of their extraordinary gifts to the Festival and the Charleston community.

Born April 61929, Peter was an only child, growing up at 4 King St. Attending local grade schools, he received his B.A. in 1950 and L.L.B. in 1952 from Washington & Lee University, where he was a Sigma Nu and awarded the Algernon Sidney Sullivan Award. Peter then joined the US Navy and served as a Lt. J.G. aboard the Aircraft Carrier USS WASP from 1953-55.

Admitted to the S.C. Bar in 1956, Peter first practiced law with Moore & Mouzon, before becoming a partner in Moore, Mouzon & McGee. He served two terms in the S.C. House of Representatives beginning in 1962, where he was First Vice-Chair of the Judiciary Committee from 1966 to 1968. In 1970, Peter and his childhood friend Ben Moore joined Henry Buist and Augustin Smythe to form Buist, Moore, Smythe & McGee, PA.

Peter was served on Charleston City Council from 1971 to 1975 and remained active with the S.C. Bar, receiving its DuRant Distinguished Public Service Award in 2003.

But perhaps he was most passionate about his work with Historic Charleston Foundation, first as Legal Counsel, then on the Board of Trustees, and as Board President from 1977 to 1980. As such, he helped the city work through the gritty details of preservation such as height ordinances. A Post and Courier opinion piece in 2020 noted “Mr. McGee began helping the Historic Charleston Foundation as a young lawyer, advising on updates to the city’s historic zoning code, including expanded historic district boundaries, new review of planned demolitions and height limits. Their work together ultimately led to the nation’s first historic preservation plan in 1974.”

Peter was recognized by HCF with its highest honor, the Frances R. Edmunds Award, in 2007. The Joseph H. “Peter” McGee Award was established by the foundation in 2023 to recognize excellence in advocacy, community preservation, and planning.

Yet HCF was just one of Peter's leadership roles. He served as Vice-Chair of the South Carolina Tri-centennial Commission from 1966 to 1971, leading efforts to create Charles Town Landing as a historic site. He also helped facilitate the National Trust for Historic Preservation's acquisition and preservation of Drayton Hall.

Peter volunteered for boards and nonprofits throughout his life, including Ashley Hall, Charleston Commission on Arts & History, Drayton HallGibbes Museum of Art, Charleston Library SocietyCoastal Community Foundation of SC, Charleston Horticultural Society, and South Carolina Historical Society. He served on the Evening Post Publishing Company’s Board of Directors for 20 years. In 2020, he recieved the state of South Carolina's highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto.

Patti was born Feb. 21, 1935, and grew up in Marion, SC. She earned a B.A. in history from Converse College. She then interviewed for teaching positions in Washington, D.C., and Charleston. She turned down a higher paying job in Washington because she wanted to live in Charleston, and that, she often said, was the smartest decision of her life.

Patti served on the Women's Council of the Gibbes Museum of Art, and as its president in 1971. She was a member of Junior League of Charleston and served as president in 1972. She also worked with the Charleston Arts and History Commission and the South Carolina Historical Society, and served as the South Carolina Advisor to The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Patti inherited her love of gardening from her mother, and was first known for her gorgeous window boxes and welcoming courtyard garden on Church Street.

She helped found the Lowcountry Garden Club in 1988. In 1989, Frank Cabot invited her to join the advisory board and then the board of directors for a new national nonprofit, the Garden Conservancy. Patti's knowledge of Southern garden history was instrumental to the Conservancy's early efforts. She served until 2015 when she was named Director Emerita.

She and Peter were founding members of the Charleston Horticultural Society in 2000, where she served on the board until 2007. Patti was awarded the Charleston Horticulture Society 1830 Award in 2009.

She was also involved with the Southern Garden History Society and, in 2012, was named by the Garden Club of America as an Honorary Member for her efforts to advance horticulture.

The McGees lived for many years in the Kohne-Lesllie House, 72 Anson Street, c. 1846, one of the properties preserved through HCF's Revolving Fund of the 196

In 2015, Peter and Patti sold their Ansonborough home and retired to Sullivan's Island, where Patti passed away on Nov. 11, 2022, at the age of 87, and Peter on April 26, 2024, at the age of 95.

Up until his death, Peter and his daughters were still working hard to make Charleston more beautiful by spearheading renovation of downtown's Wragg Square.

I worked with Peter during my 13 years working at Historic Charleston Foundation and can attest that all the accolades he has garnered are most deserved. He was a heck of a smart, passionate guy, and a great copyeditor, as I discovered when I was doing some freelance writing for one of Patti's garden projects. It was a privilege to know and work with them both.

Patti McGee was a founder of both the Lowcountry Garden Club and the Charleston Horticultural Society.
Peter McGee sitting outside the Missroon House, headquarters of the Historic Charleston Foundation.
The McGee family at the Mary Ramsey Civic Award Luncheon: Stephen Colbert, Evie Colbert, Patti McGee, Peter McGee, Madeleine McGee, Bunky Wichmann (Photo credit: Charleston Magazine)