Harold M. Bessent died May 22, 2015.
He wasn’t fat, but the iconic businessman retained the Fat Harold nickname affectionately given him when he did weigh 320 pounds for many years. He was a North Myrtle Beach icon well-loved for his support of the dance culture as well as for his philanthropy. At age 81, he stayed firm in his passions for the shag and for Camp Kemo.
After Socastee High School, Clemson University and the U. S. Marines during the Korean War, he returned to North Myrtle Beach where he wanted to promote the town he has always loved.
“I could see the future of North Myrtle Beach,” he said.
First he bought the Pad, then the Spanish Galleon. He learned to shag dance in the 50s, and that story has defined a large part of his business ventures here. Building Harold’s Across the Street, then Fat Harold’s with seven dance floors in the original club, he watched the camaraderie grow. The growth of the Society of Stranders (SOS) and the dance events referred to as SOS are among Fat Harold’s true loves.
The epitome of hospitality which made his clubs successful, he said, “I want you to feel at home when you walk in the club. I love the idea of knowing I made somebody happy.”
If you saw him at Fat Harold’s Beach Club on Main Street in North Myrtle Beach, you noticed his designated stool at the bar with the best view of the dance floor. He also owned Harold’s On the Ocean, which was especially loved for beach music on the oceanfront deck. It’s gone now, but never forgotten.
Fat Harold was an avid supporter of Camp Kemo for 30 years and was recognized for raising approximately $3 million. The 350-acre camp turns away no child. The state-of-the-art camp includes medical facilities, a heli pad and anything that could be needed to support the health, safety and welfare along with recreational needs of youngsters with cancer. He refers to these children as “my kids,” and they are always foremost in his thoughts.
Lu Lu Quick-Rigsby, office manager at Fat Harold’s Beach Club, has worked every SOS since 1982, working as cook to bartender and anything else needed. She and four other women who are described as the core “his girls” have been with Fat Harold for a total of 150 years. She described the annual SOS event as “a convergence of lemmings going to the sea.”
She lovingly described Fat Harold as “heart as big as a great big teddy bear,” and repeats his favorite sayings:
“You ain’t been to the beach unless you’ve been to Fat Harold’s,” and “As long as you’re alive, you’ll always have a place to shag.”