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Meet Dr. Neil Love, this year's Grand Marshal

LOVE ON THE (SHAM)ROCKS

Neil-LoveFor decades, Dr. Neil Love was Hilton Head Island’s only OB/GYN. He’s served as medical director for Hilton Head Hospital since 2004. It’s a lot of responsibility, but could it possibly prepare him for the immense responsibility of donning the sash as Grand Marshal at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“I’m not even really sure what a Grand Marshal does,” he said with a laugh. “I guess show up, stay sober, and do the royal wave.”

Don’t let the deadpan humor fool you; Love is thrilled to have been chosen as this year’s Grand Marshal. He and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade go way back, almost to the beginning. As a spectator (and occasional participant – more on that later), he’s watched this little parade grow up from the first year.

“I moved here in 1976, and the first parade was shortly after that,” he said. “In the beginning, it was a loosely organized sort of come-one-come-all thing.”

Raising his children on the island, Love made it a point to be at the parade each year. (“It was always a good excuse to meet up with some friends and have a drink,” he deadpanned once again). And as the island grew up around him, so did the parade.

“There weren’t any fancy floats, just a few things pulled by tractors and things like that. You didn’t see a lot of the Shriners or anything like that initially. As time went along they were able to attract people like that… It’s really became more of a professional, polished event over the years.”

And Love was always content to watch the parade from the sidelines, he was obliged to participate one year. “I remember rollerblading through one of them,” he dropped casually, adding that it was in a decidedly unofficial capacity.

There are many reasons why Dr. Love earned his sash, not least of which the sheer length of his service to the Lowcountry. Since his arrival in 1976, he’s been a respected member of the medical community, which makes it so surprising that he very nearly chose not to stay.

When he first moved here, Love was serving a residence at the University of Southern California Medical Center in Los Angeles. Like it was for so many of us, Hilton Head was originally supposed to be a short vacation from the real world.

“I fully intended to make it one year, then head back to L.A.,” he said. “I didn’t even resign from my place in L.A. I told them, ‘I’ll be on Hilton Head playing golf for a year.’”

Obviously, that year’s golf vacation found itself extended somewhat. As Love put it so eloquently, “Once you get sand in your shoes, it’s hard to leave.”

L.A.’s loss became Hilton Head Island’s gain as Love’s distinguished medical career took root on the island. He served with distinction, hand-delivering babies in the early years and advancing women’s healthcare as the island matured.

Through all his years at the forefront of Lowcountry medicine, he’s kept patients’ spirits up with his limitless knowhow, gentle bedside manner, and of course, that trademark sense of humor.

“They asked if I wanted to be Grand Marshal, and I said, ‘Well I can’t pass that up, but just so you know I’m not even Irish.’”

Irish or not, he’ll be the guy in the sash doing the royal wave at the parade this year, and we’ll raise a pint in his honor.