CELEBRATING WOMEN: Myrtle Beach’s first female mayor

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) Myrtle Beach’s first mayor took office in the 1930s, and since then, men have served in the top spot in the coastal town.

More than 80 years later, a woman now holds the highest elected political position in Myrtle Beach for the first time.

Mayor Brenda Bethune was sworn into office in January 2018 after winning a run-off election against three-term incumbent John Rhodes. She has since taken on her new responsibility as a full-time job to accomplish what she calls very specific goals.

It’s important to be all in because that’s what our residents and taxpayers deserve. They don’t deserve a part-time mayor, Bethune reasoned. The time I’m here is dependent on the time people want to keep me here. I came into it with the mindset that I have to do everything I can these first four years because I may not have another four years, and I’m passionate about that.

Bethune’s passion for the City of Myrtle Beach is deep rooted. After all, her story starts along the Grand Strand’s sandy shores.

The first six years of my life I grew up on Ocean Boulevard, Bethune said. My family owned a very small oceanfront motel. Back then, I think all the motels were ‘mom and pops.’

Bethune grew up in a family of four and fondly remembers Myrtle Beach as very quiet in her childhood.

My brother and I had the beach as our playground and would go up and down the boulevard (and)  go to The Pavilion, she said with a smile on her face.

Bethune graduated from Myrtle Beach High School in 1981 with her sights set on a career in fashion, but little did she know how those years would transform her future.

My brother was tragically killed when I was 17, she recalled. It changed everything. It changed my parents in a way I really can’t describe. I grew up in an Italian family and my dad was very Italian. His mindset was that the boy and the oldest would be the one to carry on the family business and that is what I was always told.

That family business is Better Brands, Inc. She’ll admit she didn’t see herself as playing a large role in the company until her brother’s passing.

It did take me going away for a couple of years and pursuing what I thought I wanted to realize maybe what I wanted wasn’t what was best. I don’t look at it as a sacrifice, she said. I really do look at it as I’m a firm believer God creates our path, and we can choose to follow that path or not to. I firmly believe that’s the path he chose for me and from that, (I) have gotten the best education, work-life skills, management skills (and) leadership skills.

Bethune says she worked double shifts at the company to prove herself starting in the warehouse to the front office. She admits she explored every position the company had to offer to give herself a more well rounded knowledge of the foundation it was built on.

My dad was the hardest person in the world to work with and was not a believer at all in giving you something, she remembered. It was earned. I mean, it was truly earned.

Little did Bethune know the lessons she’d learn inside the walls of Better Brands would serve her well years later.

Today, Bethune is now the CEO and managing partner of Better Brands. She also owns BJ Investments and two bridal boutiques. Never though, did she think she’d add mayor to her resume until 2017.

I think my husband, Brown, got tired of hearing me say ‘Why?’ and ‘Why can’t we do this and why can’t we do that?’ he said if you want to change it, be the change agent you’re talking about. Get in there and do something about it! she said.

Until then, she’ll openly admit she always tried to stay far away from politics.

It may sound strange to some, but I just had a pulling, and it was a pulling of I want my city to be different. I want to do something. I want to make a contribution, she said.

Her successful quest to become Myrtle Beach’s mayor not only landed her in a spot in local history, but it also added Myrtle Beach to a growing list of cities and towns across the nation led by women. Bethune feels strongly about what female leadership can add to a community’s dynamic.

I believe because we may have to juggle many different things that we can look at a situation, and we can say, OK what’s the big picture? What does this really impact? Let’s look at this from a global perspective, Bethune explained.

While taking on her new role in the community as a full-time job, Bethune has also used the position as a vehicle to inspire, impact and motivate young women across the Grand Strand.

I am just amazed at how many young girls whether they’re working behind the counter at Chick-fil-A or young girls from the Boys and Girls Club, at CCU or the high school who come up to me and say thank you, she said. Thank you for being an example to us and for showing us that we can do this, too.

Bethune says helping women believe in themselves and their goals is an important part of being a female mayor.

You can’t do things on a part-time level. It requires a lot of focus, a huge investment in time, and to me, it’s worth it. It’s worth the reward in the end, said Bethune.

When that does come for Bethune’s time in office, she hopes she will not only have made a big impact on the City of Myrtle Beach, but on the women who call it home and want to lead its future.

When this is all over and I’m not sitting here anymore, I have to answer to my family and myself, and I need to know I did it being true to my own core values.

Bethune has previously served on the board of the Coastal Education Foundation, Coastal Carolina University’s Spadoni College of Education Board, Coastal Carolina University’s Visitors at Wall School of Business board and the Coastal Carolina Bank Board. She was also a founding member and previous board president of the Children’s Museum of South Carolina.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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