Teresa Lowe attended the ceremony at Brad Paisley Park in White Sulphur Springs on June 25 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the deadliest flood in West Virginia history. With mixed emotions this week, she will be working the Welcome Tent at The Greenbrier Classic, an event that represents more than just a golf tournament returning to their hamlet in the Allegheny Mountains.
“We’re very excited it’s coming back, [that we’re] getting back some normalcy at Greenbrier and in town,” Lowe told me Sunday morning. “At the same time the one-year anniversary was very emotional. We lived through everything all over again.”
It wasn’t just the PGA Tour that was displaced, last year’s tournament postposed in the wake of the storms. Lowe has worked in the gourmet shop at the resort for 28 years. On June 23, 2016, she clung to a tree in neck-deep water for five hours as the torrent of floodwaters that started in the Alleghenies flowed down through the valley and eventually into Howard’s Creek at The Greenbrier.
Twenty-three people died, and Lowe could have been the 24th had it not been for neighbors in the tree holding her up with a rope. A man she didn’t know rescued her in a bulldozer he hotwired. Lowe was in intensive care for two days and hospitalized for six days total with hypothermia. Luckily her pregnant daughter was at work in a neighboring town. A disaster-relief group called Neighbors Loving Neighbors, formed by Greenbrier owner Jim Justice, eventually rebuilt her house. She moved in two days before Christmas.
“[The Greenbrier Classic] symbolizes the rebirth of White Sulphur,” Lowe said. “We’re excited to get it back after last year and all the disaster and having watched them work as hard as they did to get it ready. It’s been wonderful.”
Toni Cooley, who described the flood as “straight-up hell,” feels the same. As a Greenbrier employee for 41 years and now the resort’s assistant director of housekeeping, she was called to work as the gentle rain intensified. Her house was destroyed, and it took a while for her to move back in. Afterward, she was scared it was going to happen again. When it starts to rain, she gets nervous.
“It makes you appreciate what you’ve got,” Cooley said on Sunday morning. “The material things don’t matter that much any more. This is what I’ve learned, you don’t need all that material stuff. It’s just stuff that can be taken away in a minute. I’m just thankful for each and every day.”
Cooley is also thankful that the tournament is coming back to town, so she can show resolute the community is through the example of someone who survived the disaster.
“You celebrate,” she said. “The town has to celebrate, because we’re strong. We’ll never get over it. But we made it. You celebrate that. It’s the rebirth of White Sulphur. That’s what it was.”
Compared to what Lowe and Cooley experienced, Josh Pope had the easiest job in the rebuilding. All he had to do was restore a golf course. Cleanup on the Old White TPC at The Greenbrier took one month and four days. Re-construction began on July 27. Back then, it seemed unlikely that the course would be ready less than a year later.
“People don’t understand the scope of the damage and what we went through to get it back,” said Pope, who lost a member of his staff in the flood. “The toughest obstacles were not having a plan. We didn’t know how we were going to do this, and then there were all the unknowns [that surface along the way].”
Weatherwise, Pope caught a break with the grow-in. With a crew of upwards of 80 people including sub-contractors, they re-built not only the Old White holes washed away in the flood, but those on the higher ground of the property that didn’t sustain major damage. According to Pope, the fact nobody left the work crew after 12-hour days spoke volumes for the pride and dedication of the people of West Virginia.
“The biggest miracle is that our team at The Greenbrier was able to get it all done,” Pope said. “People don’t understand the score of the damage, and what we went through to get it back.
That includes Toni in housekeeping and Teresa in gourmet foods.