The City Magazine Since 1975

Hard work pays off for Historic Charleston Foundation's longtime maintenance manager

Hard work pays off for Historic Charleston Foundation's longtime maintenance manager
March 2020
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

Meet Minh Nguyen, the man behind the impeccably maintained Nathaniel Russell House, and learn about his acting debut in Forrest Gump, the Mercedes he gifted his dog, and world travels with his beloved wife, Annette





On any given day, Minh Nguyen can be spotted cruising Meeting Street in his ivory Rolls-Royce with its MINH RR vanity plate, sporting a fedora and a rascally grin. Hop in for a spin, and the 62-year-old Saigon native will regale you with tales of his acting debut in Forrest Gump, the Mercedes he gifted his dog, and world travels with his beloved wife. Beneath the big personality, the Historic Charleston Foundation’s maintenance manager for nearly four decades boasts an unwavering work ethic. This month, you’ll likely spy him at the Nathaniel Russell House, ensuring the grounds look glorious for the Festival of Houses & Gardens.

CM: What does your job entail?
MN:
I manage three men in the daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning of all five Historic Charleston Foundation properties. I work primarily at the Nathaniel Russell House, making sure the house is presentable for visitors.

CM: Tell us about arriving in the United States.
MN:
I came to the USA after the US Embassy in Saigon fell. I was 17; I had nothing and no family. I didn’t speak English. When I left the refugee camp in Guam in 1975, they told me I could go anywhere in the States. So I got a pencil and drew a mountain. In Vietnam, where we have mountains, we have ocean. You know where they sent me? Pennsylvania. In October.

CM: How did you come to live in Charleston?
MN:
In 1977, the records department told me my older brother had also escaped Saigon and lived in Charleston. The city was so much like Saigon, warm and right on the water. Historic Charleston Foundation was looking for a trustworthy maintenance worker, and the Honorary French Consul, who lived in Charleston and was Vietnamese, recommended me.

CM: How did your early years shape the man you are today?
MN:
I believe you should work hard to get what you want. For the past 30 years, I have helped kids in my community stay in school, learn a trade, and value working to earn their way.

CM: What motivates you to work so hard?
MN:
You never dream you’ll get a car in Vietnam. When I was 12 years old, a rich lady gave me a ride around Saigon in a Mercedes. I said, “If I come to America one day, I’ll get a Mercedes.” I now have owned more than 30 cars. I have a Mercedes for my dog, and I bought a Rolls-Royce two years ago.

Born: In 1957 in Saigon, Vietnam
Lives: In North Charleston with his wife, Annette, who also works for Historic Charleston Foundation, and dog B.B. (short for “Barbecue”)
Works: As maintenance manager for Historic Charleston Foundation and co-owner of 35 rental properties