Interview: Willie J. Gillard
How long have you been living in Charleston, and why did you decide to settle in this city?
I’ve been in Charleston since August 2003. I was initially attracted to Charleston as a football recruit to the University of Charleston where I played on their inaugural football team. During my time at the university I made connection to friends from Charleston and other friends not from the area that have also decided to stay, and over time it felt more and more like home to me. The people here in Charleston remind me of people from my great state of Mississippi in that they are just good hard working salt of the earth people.
How do you find the general vibe of Charleston?
Initially I was a bit overwhelmed never having lived in a city with more than ~12,000 population, and admittedly I was a bit hesitant to get out and venture around due to my preconceived views of Appalachia. As I continued to meet more people and venture further into the more secluded areas of the state I realized that the negative hype surrounding Charleston and Appalachia has a whole is false. The people here care about family, God, liberty, and the Mountaineers, the first three being a trend throughout the Southeastern region. I realized as I got to know more about the government, economic climate, and the people that I wasn’t so far from home.
Which season is Charleston at its best?
Summer. I love the summer anywhere I go. I grew up in the heart of the southland, and I loved it. Summer here is very nice, because there is access to waterways and numerous other outdoor activities that interest me when it’s hot outside. I know a lot of people around here prefer the winter for skiing, but I would much rather get out and hike.
What do you think is Charleston’s biggest attraction?
On this question I’ll allude to the answer to the previous question and say that Charleston and West Virginia has a beautiful nature attraction. There are activities for everyone in every season. Some of the scenes I’ve seen this fall and every fall here greatly exceed anything that can be caught on any canvass or postcard. The states Department of Natural Resources also does a great job in maintaining public areas so that people of all ages can enjoy the outdoors whether they want to sit around the cabins and enjoy the scene all day or get out and explore the hills.
How would you describe Charleston to someone who hasn’t been here before?
I would describe Charleston as a place with a city appeal with a small town mentality. Charleston affords those living here all the amenities that you would expect to see in a capital city such as restaurants from fast food to fine dining, a decent night life, many venues for lounging and chatting, and few parks for green space in the downtown area. As for the small town mentality, the neighborhoods are close nit and often relatives and everyone knows everyone, which can be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask.
What are your top 5 dining places in Charleston?
In no particular order the restaurant I would recommend are Morocco’s Mediterranean Restaurant, Cloe’s, Bennigan’s, Fazio’s, and Famous Dave’s Barbeque.
What are Charleston’s attractions that every tourist must visit?
The places to visit in the Charleston are the Clay Center and the up and coming WV division of cultural and history state museum that will be housed in the Cultural Center on the capital grounds for a cultural and artistic experience. For sporting activities I would recommend visiting the University of Charleston Stadium and Eddie King Gymnasium during the fall for local collegiate sports.
What are the absolute must-try’s for every visitor in Charleston?
The must try’s that come to mind I’ve already spoken about. The restaurant I recommended are a must try and experiencing scheduled events in cultural and performing arts in the areas.
What are the cheap thrills that you can enjoy in Charleston?
Cheap thrill in Charleston for me are driving or walking and hills and finding a nice view to look down over the city of Charleston. Magic Island river front is another great location in Charleston just to get out and enjoy the waterfront view and take a walk. Also there are several free venues such as the state museum, clay center art gallery, sports bars and the library where visitors can go and get more information on place to see and things to do in Charleston.
A native son of West Point, MS, Willie Gillard currently works as a financial analyst for the Triana. He attended the University of Charleston where he started for two years on its inaugural football team and attained an undergrad degree in accounting. He finished his MBA studies from the University of Charleston in December 2006. He is now a graduate of the latest and greatest class of Leadership West Virginia. He is currently serving on the board of two great organizations, Prokids, which serves as an after school program for about ~60 children at Piedmont Elementary who need volunteers from the community, and the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, which serves primarily elementary school students on the west side of Charleston, but aggressively working on programs to attract TEENS to the club.