Plan Today to Prepare for the Future

In 2030, the parks and recreation profession will be vastly different from that of 2018. Those agencies that have the desire to plan with a purpose, and then fund and work that plan, will be just fine.

Explore this site to learn more about me, my work in the field, and examples of truly innovated strategies. 

Panel 1

About Tom

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a first-generation Irish immigrant mother and a lifelong teacher, coach and recreation director father.IMG_5175 I have a brother and four sisters. I moved to Mount Pleasant the day after I graduated from college to become the Athletic Director, coach and teacher at the old East Cooper School.

Like many people in their early 20s, I moved to Mount Pleasant to start my adult life. I was exposed to Mount Pleasant for the first time in 1978 and never left. My first apartment was a studio apartment, in The Common on Coleman Boulevard on Shem Creek. When I go back to the creek, even today, I still appreciate the familiar smells of the marsh, the pluff mud and the water.

I have done various things while in Mount Pleasant but I keep getting pulled back to 100 Ann Edwards Lane, the site of Mount Pleasant Town Hall. My first job out of college was at East Cooper School, located on the site of today’s Mount Pleasant Town Hall. I oversaw the construction of the track and the field, which are still there today, and coached many games in the gym. Shortly after teaching, and a few years in the insurance business, I came back to Mount Pleasant Town Hall as the recreation director for the Town. I am very proud to have been able to be a part of an amazing Town of Mount Pleasant staff. The recreation department was award-winning, but I learned that any department’s success owes a debt of gratitude to the other departments in the Town as well as to the administration and elected officials. I was lucky to have been a department manager under Mac Burdette. It was while working for the Town that I learned the “business” of government. After 17 years as the executive director of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, I am on another quest to come back to 100 Ann Edwards Lane as a Town Council member.

My family is my most important priority. I met my wife Jackie in college and we have been married for over 38 years. We have three grown children and two IMG_5180grandchildren. The passions and hobbies that my wife and I share have kept us together. We are both very active physically, regularly competing in local runs, races and triathlons. We are avid cyclists and love to scuba dive. My wife and I are also coaches. We started our professional careers as coaches and we both are still volunteer coaching today in track and field. Jackie has been teaching math for over 28 years. She tried retirement this year but failed miserably, and now regularly volunteers at Cario Middle School and tutors. She will teach dual credit math classes next year, part-time, at Oceanside Collegiate Academy in Mount Pleasant.

Professionally, I am on the faculty at Clemson University as a professor of practice. Professor of practice means that I have gotten my knowledge and material through experience and expertise obtained in the field, as opposed to academia. Many universities now have professors of practice. I teach the business and entrepreneurial aspects of parks and recreation, and I have been fortunate to have been asked to speak regularly on the topic throughout the US, Canada, and soon, Mexico. I also serve as the executive director of the Parklands Foundation of Charleston County, which is Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission’s non-profit fundraising arm. I am passionate about our two Parklands projects. The first is the Genesis Project, which exists to build and operate pools in the rural areas of South Carolina where the incidence of African-American drownings is prevalent. The second project, Pass it Forward, is a “Play for Life” project facilitating ways for as many youth as possible to compete and benefit from all of the values that youth sports teach.

There is a misconception by my friends and acquaintances that I am retired. I don’t see myself as retired. Hopefully, as long as I am alive, I will be contributing something to someone. My next desire is to utilize my over 25 years of proven government executive management experience to work with the Mayor and Town Council together to make Mount Pleasant the greatest city in the world…I’m serious.

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Top Five Issues

The Parks and Recreation profession is changing. The top five issues facing our profession today are:

Protect Your Agency

The ability to protect your agency and its mission while contracting with nonprofit organizations, vendors, and partners in park development and programming assistance.

Plan Ahead

Without a plan you will fail. Organizations need master plans and strategic plans that will act as a guiding light for all you do.

Budget Wisely

Finding money and controlling costs are the key to sustaining your park agency. The successful agencies will understand how to find necessary funds and then operate as lean as possible to ensure that you do not expend more than you should.

Build Morale

Agency morale is as important as anything else you do. Morale is not a by-product, it is something that needs to be incorporated into agency management.

Understand Politics

Political environments change every day. It is important to understand this new normal and how you can operate in a very different political climate.

Panel 4

About the Artist

My site features incredible photography by artist Valerie Fitts that showcases all of the natural beauty that makes Mount Pleasant such a special place. Please take a moment to learn more about her and her work.

Valerie Fitts is a Tennessee-born Southern girl with more than just charm. She has vision and a true calling to inspire others to enjoy and protect the natural beauty that surrounds the residents of Mount Pleasant.

Valerie’s feet first touched Mount Pleasant’s soil in 1996, when her husband’s job was transferred to the Lowcountry. She stepped out of the car, took her first breath, and instantly her nostrils were full of the pungent salty-sweet smell of pluff mud. She exclaimed, “this smells like home!”

From that day forward, she rose before the dawn, running with camera in hand, along the golden-green marshes and sparkling waterways of Mount Pleasant…capturing breathtaking sunrises, lush landscapes, and ending most days capturing stunning sunsets from the Old Pitt Street Bridge.

Valerie and her husband raised both of their sons in Mount Pleasant. Being a running family, they spent many hours enjoying the many parks and recreational areas that Mount Pleasant offers. That is where her family first met Tom O’Rourke, and witnessed his exceptional leadership skills, and love for the town of Mount Pleasant. She feels it a true honor that her photos were selected to support Tom O’Rourke and his campaign for Mount Pleasant Town Council.

Please check out more of Valerie’s work at