January 2007

Security With A Smile - Keith Kelson of Sea Pines

Author: Jean Wharton

Have you ever tried to explain gate passes, plantation entrances or security check-in to someone who isn’t from Hilton Head Island? If you have, then you understand how utterly bizarre our system of security and identification may seem to the outside world. Besides the fact that most plantations are guarded by uniformed security agents, jurisdiction varies greatly among these pillars of law enforcement.

Without a doubt, anyone who lives here, full or part time, has had an encounter with a plantation guard, be it to buy an entry pass to Sea Pines or to receive a traffic citation due to faulty traffic circle navigation. In most cases, the pleasant official will issue a warning and direct you on the right path. If you have been privy to such an experience, you may have a favorite neighborhood guard. Mine is Keith Kelson of Sea Pines.

At 6’ 3”, Keith is hard to miss. His size may be intimidating, but he always wears a welcoming smile. I first became friendly with Keith while living in a beach house near the back gate of Sea Pines. I would enter the back gate, with my pass clearly affixed to my front window, yet Keith would always take an extra minute or two to glance into the car and say hello. After a number of weeks, making small talk about the weather and what my friends and I were up to for the weekend, Keith started to remember my car and name. He even felt comfortable enough to inquire about the whereabouts of the boyfriend he assumed I surely had.

People are constantly trying to set me up with dates, and Keith, discovering my unattached status, is no different. For a few months, he interviewed me each time I passed through the gate, trying to figure out what I was looking for in a boyfriend and then scrolling through his mental Rolodex for a suitable match. Although not an effective dating service, Keith’s friendship continues to be a highlight of my often over-scheduled days.

Keith chuckles when he hears my comments about his ineffective matchmaking. After all, his pitch is pretty convincing: “Hey, any guy would be lucky to have Jean. She’s intelligent, funny and she’s not hard on the eyes,” he says with a wink. “I’m thinking that she would like a guy who looks like Brad Pitt but has the heart of Mr. Rogers. He’s out there somewhere in Sea Pines,” he continues. “But he must be single, with no major issues—like being a Dallas Cowboy fan.”

When you know a person specifically for the role he plays in your life, you might find it surprising when you see him out of context—a phenomenon that struck me when I saw Keith at the grocery store. He was strolling down the aisle looking for a mid-shift snack. I glanced in his direction, expecting him to pass me by. Since I wasn’t behind the wheel of my car, I assumed that he wouldn’t recognize me. But he did, and we engaged in our normal banter as he charmed me into buying his candy bar.

With nearly ten years experience working the gates, Keith has surely seen it all. Though the normal routine of redirecting lost bicyclists and handling gate passes is what’s on the agenda day to day, Keith says some days are more like Twin Peaks experiences. “Once, this guy in a Ferrari drove up and said I ruined his vacation because I didn’t know where his falcon was—and then just drove off,” Keith relates. “I still don’t know what that was about.”

Working the gate has also given Keith the opportunity to stargaze, as Hilton Head plays host to many golf-crazed celebrities. Robert Redford, Kelsey Grammer and Julius “Dr. J” Erving are just a few of the famous faces Keith has encountered while on the gate. As a lifelong fan of the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, meeting Dr. J was the ultimate thrill for him, Keith says, but he was able to suppress the urge to ask his boyhood idol for his autograph. “If I see Doc again though, I’m going all fanboy and getting his autograph,” Keith admits. “I’ve even got a little happy dance planned.”

A native of the Lowcountry, Keith hails from Possum Hill, SC.—the likely source of his southern hospitality and charm.

Whether you call Sea Pines home or you like to visit Harbour Town from time to time, get to know the familiar face that is sure to brighten you drive. Save this article and ask Keith for his autograph. It will make his day, and in return, you’ll see one of the most pleasant smiles in town.

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