Community celebrates Bluffton woman who helped change health conditions in 1968

In 1968, Laura Bush was asked to help in a multi-university study on the malnutrition of African American children in Beaufort.

BLUFFTON, Sc. (WSAV) – “I am a Bluffton native. I grew up about a block from here on Gerard Avenue,” said Laura Bush, “I was a bus girl, I was a waitress and because I did not have a college degree I felt that ‘Okay, that’s what I’ll be doing the rest of my life.’”

But, she was wrong. In 1968, Laura Bush was asked to help in a multi-university study on the malnutrition of African American children in Beaufort.

“We had a local doctor who was seeing children who were infested with worms and some had died,” Bush said, “And that sort of brought the attention of US Senator Fritz Hollings, who was a former governor of South Carolina and local Senator James Waddell and many others.”

She showed them her town and the conditions of malnutrition segregation had created. The universities received a government grant to test children in Beaufort County, and she became the liaison between them and the community.

“Listen you’re talking 1968,” Bush said, “You’re talking parents who were skittish about letting the whites come into their homes and trying to get them to do anything so I had to convince them that the study was going to be helpful and the reason why we were doing the study.”

Out of 200 families, Bush was able to get 178 on-board.

“They gave me a station wagon and I was able to bring the children from Hilton head as well as Bluffton to this site so they could be tested by the doctors…” Bush said as she stood in front of the old Bluffton Health Center on May River Rd.

Of the 178 – almost 90% were infested with stomach worms and all were malnourished.

“We also tested a preschool center with I think 24, 34 white children preschool kids and we found only 4% of those youngsters had stomach worms and there were no dietary issues.”

The results, brought change.

“1970 Beaufort Jasper County Comprehensive Health which is on Highway 170 in Beaufort it’s a two County comprehensive health program was formalized,” she said.

Bush worked with them for 10 years, followed by many other community positions – including 26 years on the school board – and now she runs her own nonprofit called “It’s Better to Give Back”.

“As long as God gives me help there still work to do,”  she said.

Laura’s family and friends are hosting an event at the Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton on Saturday– “An Evening With Laura Bush” to celebrate her life’s work and raise money for her foundation. Click the link to purchase tickets.

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