Margaret McManus: Former CIA analyst still keeping a close eye on international affairs

Margaret McManus

She traveled the world while serving her country as a Central Intelligence Agency analyst for more than two decades. Now, Margaret McManus is focused on making the Lowcountry a better place by giving of her time.

“I always had a sense of patriotism,” said McManus, who is a long-time member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “I thought I’d work at the State Department coming out of college at American University in D.C. But the CIA proved to be a wonderful fit.”

The South Texas native studied international relations at American’s School of International Service, a program that only accepted 60 students each year.

“I remember as a little girl, I said I’m going to go to China someday, I knew there was a big world out there and I wanted to see it,” McManus said. “We’re all connected in that we want the same things out of life.  Happiness for our children, for our family. I love reading about other countries, how they conduct themselves, spending time in a country and seeing first-hand how they see the United States.”

This worldly view continued once she migrated from McLean, Va. down to Hilton Head 10 years ago. She joined the Hilton Head chapter of the World Affairs Council of America, a group of businessmen and women and retirees with overseas experience. The circle is filled with ex-military and government workers and history lovers who come together regularly to discuss international affairs. They bring in scholars worldwide to lecture on a diverse array of topics.

McManus has helped the group to grow to 1,200 members over her six years with the group.

“On an island of 39,000 people, that’s a pretty good number, but we are always looking for new members,” she said.

McManus is also chairwoman of the Women in Philanthropy, a fund of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry focused on pooling money together for charitable causes. The 140-member group gave out a record-breaking $83,000 in grants in 2016, including a $50,000 grant to Habitat for Humanity to fund a house largely built by women that will be awarded to a single mother. The home should be completed by February 2017.

“The World Affairs is for my head, the Women in Philanthropy is for my heart,” McManus said. “To be around these amazing women that see the power in giving to others, it’s what makes me love this place so much.”

And travel keeps her soul young. She estimates she has visited over 60 countries, including living in Japan and the Philippines while with the CIA. And she has enough wild stories to make a movie.

“I remember during some down time in Kuala Lumpur, I took a tour through the Straits of Malacca to Crab Island. I’m the only Caucasian and I’m wearing a dress. It’s me and two Japanese men in a beat-up Mercedes heading to this island built on stilts,” she said. “We pulled crabs from underneath the houses and it was one of the few times I felt out of my league. I should have been with a group.”

She has a wall map that details all her stops, from Taiwan to Russia to Saudi Arabia, where she bought frankincense and myrrh at a Jeddah night market.

“To be in other cultures, to hear the language, to smell the food, it reinvigorates me every time,” she said. “The travel sure keeps me young.”

She has instilled that love in her three grandsons, who she recently took on a trip to Scotland. She and her sister recently completed an Amazon jungle trip.

“I want to spread that love of travel and of knowing the world around us to anyone I can,” she said. “It makes me appreciate the beauty and the giving nature of the Lowcountry all that much more.”

For information on the World Affairs Council, visit Women in Philanthropy membership is $300 per year. For more information, call the Community Foundation at 681-9100.