Visits by President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, to the Carolina coast inspired their son, Elliott, to pen the 1986 novel Murder at Hobcaw Barony, in which the first lady discovers a mysterious death during a trip to financier Bernard Baruch’s Lowcountry estate.
The Baruch Mansion graces the cover, a second-floor window encircled where the titular murder occurs. But for the vice president of Public Service and Agriculture (PSA), George Askew, the window wasn’t the scene of a crime — just the window to his office.
“President Roosevelt spent a good bit of time there, so that’s where Elliott set his book,” Askew says. “It was my office they circled on the cover.”
By the time the book was published, Hobcaw Barony — located in Georgetown, South Carolina — was a privately owned research reserve and home to what is now the Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, where Askew worked for 28 years before returning to Clemson’s main campus and taking his current role in 2014.
This year, Askew will celebrate his 50th anniversary at Clemson, across stints as a student, faculty member and administrator — a milestone he’d never envisioned when he arrived on campus as a freshman from South Jersey.
“My goal was to get an undergraduate degree, go out into the world and practice commercial forestry,” he says.
Instead, Askew graduated on a Friday, married his wife, Jean — whom he met at Clemson — and on Saturday, moved out of Johnstone Hall and into married student housing to start his graduate work. Four years later, Askew moved to Hobcaw and into the aforementioned second-floor office.
As the Baruch Institute grew, so did Askew’s responsibilities. He became director of the institute along with Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence, South Carolina. In 2008, he moved back to campus and eventually was named director of the Clemson Experiment Station, the collective of the University’s six research and education centers strategically located throughout the state.
“I owe all that to [former vice president] John Kelly, who gave me those opportunities,” Askew says. “And when Dr. Kelly left in 2014 and President Clements came on board, I had the experience necessary for the president to have some confidence to say, ‘Move into the vice presidency.’”
Askew’s experience running a natural resource institute in Georgetown and an agricultural center in Florence, as well as overseeing 13 counties as a district Extension director, gave him a broad knowledge of PSA, which comprises four units: the Clemson Experiment Station, Clemson Cooperative Extension, Livestock Poultry Health and Regulatory Services — and led him to ultimately taking the reins.
“In addition to traditional university output of publications or scientific journals, this is actual layperson’s transfer of practical knowledge to people who put it into practice on a day-to-day basis,” Askew says. “I say this all the time, and people don’t really believe me: Clemson touches every single person’s life in South Carolina. It’s a big responsibility for the University because the health, welfare and economy of the state rest on what we do.”