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Neighbors call John Doyle the “Mayor of Harbor View Road” for spreading joy during his walks

Neighbors call John Doyle the “Mayor of Harbor View Road” for spreading joy during his walks
August 2023

Find out what prompted his walking and waving routine

John Doyle greets passersby as he walks across the James Island Creek bridge.

Charleston’s an active city, with no shortage of walkers, joggers, and bikers huffing and puffing their way along its streets and sidewalks. And if you live on James Island and drive down Harbor View Road on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday afternoon, you’ll have the pleasure of interacting with a man who’s not only out to break a sweat, but also committed to spreading smiles along the way. 

Charleston native John Doyle—whom neighbors have unofficially dubbed “The Mayor of Harbor View Road”—has traversed the same six-and-a-half-mile route almost every other weekday since 2011, when he retired from a 40-year career as an engineer and moved home to the Lowcountry, settling with his wife, Kathy, into a creek-front property on James Island (which allows for frequent fishing). What began as a wave here or there during his routine walks blossomed into a joy-spreading ritual of waving, pointing, nodding, or offering the peace sign to every single driver or pedestrian that he passes. We chatted with John to learn more about him and his heart-pumping, heartwarming hobby.

CM: Where did you grow up, and how did you get into engineering?
I was born on Wolfe Street in the East Side back in 1946. I was planning on going into the Air Force after high school—we were in the middle of the Vietnam War at the time—but my senior year at Burke [High School], I won a scholarship to South Carolina State. I was actually there during the [Orangeburg] massacre and was out there that night. After SC State, the war was still going on, and I did some job interviews; AT&T had some people there that were associated with defense work, and I worked for about four years on sonar projects for them. After the war, I got my engineering degree from North Carolina State and took a job as a development engineer with Westinghouse in South Boston, Virginia. I was an advanced transformer instructor; I taught electrical engineers how to be design engineers in power engineering. After that, I was a consulting engineer for Asea Brown Boveri for about 10 years.

CM: How did your walking—and waving—routine begin?
I walked in the beginning for exercise. But it changed from just exercising to enjoying the moment. People would nod or wave at me, and I’d wave back. It was one or two people, then three or four, then five or six—it kept growing until it got to the point where it was easier to wave at everybody than to offend somebody who may have waved at me and I didn’t respond in time.

CM: I’ve driven past, and your wave lifted my spirits. How does it feel for you?
Ninety-nine percent of people interact in a very positive way—they either wave or toot their horn. I’ve had people even stop and tell me, “You make my day.” That was not my intention, but I’m glad it worked out that way. I’m just being me and saying, “Hey, how’re you doing?” It makes me feel good.

CM: What are you up to when you’re not walking?
I grow a garden and can stay in my yard for seven or eight hours. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve just started my summer garden; l have cantaloupes, okra, peppers, watermelons, tomatoes, grapes, and fruit trees. I give away most of it to my church and some of the elderly people from the East Side.

CM: You spread joy to others almost daily. What brings you joy?
Just being able to get out and do the things that I want to do and function in the way that my body’s still functioning now for my age. As long as I’m in halfway decent health, that’s my main concern, just be as healthy as I can for as long as I can so I can enjoy retirement.

Born: 1946 in Charleston
Lives: James Island
Education: South Carolina State University and North Carolina State University
Family: Wife, Kathy
Career: Development engineer with  Westinghouse and later a consulting engineer with Asea Brown Boveri
Giving Back: United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters partnership