By Hilary Kraus
Photography by Anne, Inc. – Sloan Bragg
Pamela Martin Ovens has an idea. Then again, if Pamela is conscious and upright, chances are, there are ideas floating around her head that likely will get out. The topic is misconceptions that tourists have about Hilton Head Island and the surrounding area.
“The town should make people who are in the business of seeing tourists take a test (about the area) that they have to pass, so at least they’d be giving information that is correct,” Pamela said. And if anyone knows the history and the lay of the land (and sea) of the Lowcountry, it’s Pamela and her husband, Peter Ovens. Pamela has lived here for 35 years, while Peter has called Hilton Head home for 51 years. The Hilton Head couple has served on various boards over the years and is widely known for their chartered sailboat business for 14 years, beginning in 1996. The two took hundreds of tourists on cruises on their 62-foot boat named “Welcome.”
“When we would take people out on the boat, they really didn’t know the true history of the Lowcountry, which is unfortunate,” Pamela said. She gave an example of the urban myth about the word origin of Daufuskie, as in Daufuskie Island. “It doesn’t mean the first key,” Pamela said. “That’s a rumor that started years ago and caught on.” Pamela explained the island’s name is a Catawba Indian name that is believed to translate to “pointed feather.”
More recently, Pamela and her friend Gail Horvath ran the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market at Honey Horn during the spring and summer of 2011 and 2012. It closed due to a lack of support from the town, Pamela said. “It was very sad,” she added. “I cried when we went before the town council with remarks.” But it didn’t take long for Pamela to take a stab at another line of work. With a background in radio/TV sales, as well as being an on-air personality, Pamela joined Lydia Inglett’s Starbooks.biz publishing business and works as a full-time sales manager. She also authored a book about Charleston, with photos by Hilton Head resident Martha Lawrence, which is due to be released in October.
“Pamela really zeros in on what books will fit for a particular store, museum or shop,” Lydia said. “She speaks their language and understands the dynamics. She is multi-talented and loves books as much as I do, so we make a good team.”
Pamela moved to Hilton Head when her then-husband, Tom Singer, accepted a job in sales. Soon after the move, Pamela found herself managing a dress shop at Pineland Mall. The move was everything Pamela had hoped for. “My family used to vacation here and every time we would leave I would be crying when we would be going over the bridge,” Pamela said. “I thought I had to live here some day.” That was 1979, when the permanent residents’ population was nearing 11,000, compared to close to 40,000 today.
“It felt more like a small town,” Pamela said. “I would go to the post office and I thought I knew everyone there. I remember going to Daufuskie because it was the closest place to get a Christmas tree.” Peter has been living on Hilton Head since 1963. As a land planner, he was hired by the late Charles E. Fraser, Sea Pines Resort real estate developer, to lay out the community’s master plan. "Peter also captained Charles’ sailboat, Compass Rose, for many years and might do so again, as a group is trying to get the boat back in the water," Pamela said.
As for the future? Pamela said promoting her Charleston book will be a main focus. But she’ll continue to have several irons in the fire and no shortage of ideas and opinions. “The most important thing for the future of this island is to pay attention to what’s happening,” Pamela explained. “When you see something wrong, do something. That’s what Charles Fraser used to say.”
Background: Born in Dayton, Ohio. Grew up in Charleston, W.Va. Graduated from Morris Harvey College with a degree in theater. Her parents, Doug and Jane Martin, were involved in theater for many years.
Family: Husband Peter Ovens, married 25 years. Sons Douglas Singer, lives in New York City; and Pete, lives in Hilton Head.
What do you do for fun? “I love to read. I like to read history books; I like to read novels. I don’t read eBooks. I like the way (conventional) books feel. I like the way they smell. I like the way the fonts are.”
What are you reading now? Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life by Richard Meryman.
What is something most people don’t know about you? “I’ve never been west of Chicago. I’ve been to London and Paris and all that. I think it’s because my relatives, my people didn’t go there. I have a Dutch heritage. We went to New York and we finally went as far as Chicago, and that was it.”
Will you ever take a trip to the western U.S? “No, probably not.”