‘The road I’ve been on has been very challenging’ - Darla Moore talks about her roots, success, giving back

Updated: Apr. 19, 2018 at 5:14 PM EDT
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LAKE CITY, SC (WMBF) - In an exclusive interview, WMBF News sat down with South Carolina’s very own Darla Moore. The Lake City native, entrepreneur, and financier has been one of the top influencers in the region for decades. Most of all, she said she is proud of her Pee Dee roots.

Growing up on her family's farm in Lake City, Moore went from a small town southern girl to a well-known name around the country.

"Without a doubt I hold that up as sort of the underpinning of what success I have, is where I came from," Moore said. "I think about that all the time, I wonder if I had come from a larger city or different background would I have been as motivated or driven."

When Moore does come back home, drives through Lake City and talks with people, she said it always keeps her coming back.

"The memories of what a vibrant place it was, it reminds me of childhood when you were on the farm and in a cocoon of love and safety and peace, it's very romantic," she said. "Early on in my growing up, it was quite a prosperous farm; it was a large tobacco market and with the passage of time and over three or four decades as tobacco went away, as with other places, the town sort of began to dry up."

With the help and commitment of Moore, ArtFields is in its sixth year. It kicks off April 20 and lasts until April 28. ArtFields calls itself the South's most engaging art competition and festival. The goal is to honor the artists of the southeast with a week's worth of celebration and competition in the heart of a traditional small town. More than 400 masterpieces are displayed in locally-owned venues and more than $120,000 is up for grabs.

ArtFields is a gem that has helped keep Lake City alive.

"It happened slowly, it wasn't a eureka moment where I came back and said, 'Oh goodness, I have to come fix or help reignite the community.' It was a slow irradiative process," Moore added.

"The idea of ArtFields, it was kind of funny, it was a group of people talking about what kind of hook could we come up with to begin getting people interesting in coming to Lake city. We thought about a lot and none of the group were art people, we appreciated it, but visual arts has not been a centerpiece of this community, or of the south really," explained Moore.

Before ArtFields existed, Moore attained her reputable name. She has a net worth of $2.3 billion and is the second wealthiest person in all of South Carolina.

Moore was the first woman to land the cover of Fortune Magazine and was named one of 50 most powerful women in American business. Moore replied modestly, "I just looked at that and glanced at it and put it in the drawer, and I don't think I ever looked at it again."

Moore worked alongside her late husband Richard Rainwater, who passed away in 2015. He founded Rainwater Inc., which is now one of the most-admitted investment funds in the country.

"Richard, my husband, was one of the greats of his generation as an investor," Moore said. "He was a visionary and was one of the first that engaged in financial transactions, and today we would call it private equity. It's common today and when Richard first started, it was not. He was an exceptional visionary, himself. I just got very fortunate to become a partner."

She added, "We had complimentary skills and both came from financial environments, we were involved in assets that were either bruised or in trouble."

In 2012, Moore became one of the first two female members of the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. She shares that title with Condoleezza Rice. Moore said, laughing, "You certainly don't ask to be a a part of Augusta - that's an invitation only, that's how they work, and it's an enormous honor."

Moore is known as a philanthropist having given away more than $100 million. She helped start the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, and created the Darla Moore Foundation to help evolve the people of Lake City.

"Why spread the wealth? Well, I think it's important that you share," Moore said. "When you've been as fortunate and blessed as I have been with all the opportunities you want all the people to have the same advantages." Higher education is at the top of Moore's list in giving.

"The giving away of the money is in some ways harder than the making, and becoming successful and giving it away successfully," Moore added. "I don't underestimate doing it smart and to do it effectively and to have something to show for it when you're finished."

Traveling has become a special interest of Moore's.

"I travel a good bit, and have interest in what you might call adventure travel. Nothing dangerous or anything, but I learn so much when I travel and bring it back. I say, 'The people of outer Mongolia do this, I wonder how that would play here.' It's off the beaten track and what I learn informs how I see the world every time, it's fascinating. I would encourage everyone to see other ways of living and other cultures. It's a very big part of informing how I think," Moore explained.

When looking back on the milestones in her life, she said she thinks of them as her path and journey she went on.

"The road I've been on has been very challenging; it's not easy or for the faint of heart, but it's not insurmountable either," Moore said.

She explained why it hasn't been easy: "Coming from the south, being female form the south, playing in what I call a Yankee stadium, it's not a simple path."

Moore's life evolved; she said there wasn't a stand out moment when she knew she made it.

"As life unfolds, it changes. When I was 30 and I did my first big financial transaction I thought I had made it, then you realize you have a long way to go, then there's the next event. Oh, when I realized ArtFields might actually work, that was another time," Moore said.

As a little girl, Moore said she didn't dream of accomplishing "x, y and z."

"Never, never, not even as a young woman in my career," she said. "Women who are making hard decisions and then executing them, I think it gives an impression that maybe you're tougher or stronger or whatever, that wouldn't necessarily be the same as if a man executed those decisions. I think its hype and image."

Lake City responds to Moore as anyone else. She said she isn't known as the local celebrity.

"Not at all, not at all, and I love that part of it," she said. "I'm just a citizen of the town and I walk through the town and I'm just Darla or Miss Darla and it's wonderful I am just a regular person here. I come down in a hard hat, work boots and jeans."

Moore wasn't lying. She put on her hard hat and walked around the most recent construction in downtown Lake City, showing it off and interacting with the workers.

"This is going to be an outdoor sculpture garden," she explained. "It will be open all year round. Even though ArtFields is a ten-day competition, it has really become such a part of the community, it's really year round."

Moore said she is proud of Lake City, to say the least.

"The willingness to take charge and come back and say you know what we are better than this," she said. "We were prosperous at one time and we can go there again."

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