When you meet people living low-key lives in such a leisure-loving setting like Hilton Head Island, it’s easy to forget that our community is filled with people who had impressive, high-powered careers in the past. What’s also great about our community is that even though, for the most part, we are a retirement community, many retirees aren’t spending their days relaxing or playing golf; they’re working every day and generously sharing their talent and experience with the community.
Eric Turpin models this spirit of giving. At first glance, because of his subtle, understated manner, he comes across as someone who spends all of his time on the golf course or enjoying our ocean breezes. But he is also the newly appointed executive director of the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association, as well as a business consultant for his own firm, Turpin Enterprises. Turpin, a former corporate director and vice president of human resources at Coca-Cola, uses his corporate background as a “human capital” manager in his new role at NIBCAA, where he first served as a board member, and to help the organization achieve its goal of enhancing the Gullah-Geechee cultural experience in the Lowcountry.
In his new position, Turpin has demonstrated personal integrity and strong leadership and negotiation skills that are masked by his quiet, calming demeanor. Part of his role has been to take on the responsibility of hosting NIBCAA’s 21st annual Gullah Celebration in February, as well as guiding the organization toward a return to its founding principles of providing the native island community with direction and support. Interacting with Town of Hilton Head Island leadership, members of local property owners associations and the historic native island churches helps him stay connected to the community.
NIBCAA’s primary focus is on providing support for native islands by making sure they have a voice in the community, and that their unique needs are addressed. For example, many native islanders are still dealing with day-to-day infrastructure issues such as unpaved roads, poor drainage from their properties, and a lack of sewage connections. These are issues which affect their quality of life. The NIBCAA also is focused on maintaining Gullah culture and preserving and promoting historic Mitchelville.
“When you look at NIBCAA, it is similar to an umbrella that covers all of the island’s cultural elements,” Turpin said. “Everything on the island is connected; historic Mitchelville, the Gullah Museum, the Gullah Tours and the Gullah Celebration. Each of them are separate entities, but we’re all working together on the same theme of maintaining the island’s cultural preservation and tourism.”
Some native islanders live on property that has been in their families for more than 150 years, and they need help and information from town officials to ensure the land stays in their families for generations to come. Tuprin works closely with NIBCAA’s Community Action Committee, whose goal is to strengthen NIBCAA’s position as a resource for native islanders as well as to establish NIBCAA as the bridge between the native island community and town officials, giving native islanders a unified voice and control over their legacy.
“It’s very important that we get to share our story as it really is,” Turpin said. “I don’t think that anyone can tell everyone’s story. If we don’t tell our own story, who will? People who have lived here for generations can tell their own story. For instance, when the Mitchelville story is told, it needs to be told by those who experienced it firsthand.”
Tuprin and his wife, Landier, have owned property on Hilton Head since 1994. When he does take some time to enjoy his semi-retirement, Turpin spends his time volunteering, golfing, sailing on his boat or listening to jazz.
Hilton Head is known for its beauty and tranquility, but it’s rarely considered a melting pot of corporate talents and experience. Strong community leaders like Turpin help to make the island a special place for all of us to enjoy.