Darla Moore known for breaking gender barriers

Darla Moore known for breaking gender barriers

Published Aug. 20, 2012 7:39 p.m. ET

Busting into an all-boys club has never been a problem for Darla Moore.

The Wall Street wizard with rich Southern roots made a name for herself in the male-dominated world of finance as executive vice president of one of the largest private investment firms in the United States. She was the first woman featured for a cover story by Fortune magazine in 1997, and at one point, she was the only woman on the board of trustees at her alma mater, the University of South Carolina.

Moore broke another gender barrier Monday when the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters tournament each year, asked her and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to become its first women members.

''Augusta National has always captured my imagination, and is one of the most magically beautiful places anywhere in the world, as everyone gets to see during the Masters each April,'' Moore said in a statement.


Moore, 58, rose to prominence in the 1980s with Chemical Bank, where she became the highest-paid woman in the banking industry. She is vice president of Rainwater Inc., a private investment company founded by her husband, Richard Rainwater, whose net worth was $2.3 billion as of March, according to Forbes magazine.

She has served on a number of corporate, medical and university boards, but she is perhaps best known in South Carolina as a philanthropist. Moore is the top donor to the University of South Carolina, pledging $75 million since 1998, when the business school was named after her. She also donated $10 million to her late father's alma mater, Clemson University.

Much of her philanthropy is done behind the scenes, as she eschews the spotlight. She declined an interview request for this article, instead choosing to release a short statement.

''She loves to do her work under the radar. It's the people around her she wants to highlight and put out there. She doesn't want it to be about her,'' said Jim Fields, the executive director of the Palmetto Institute, a nonprofit research group Moore founded in 2002 that is committed to improving South Carolinians' economic well-being.

Moore is known for her ability to get things done, whether it's raising money or making decisions in the board room. Fortune called her the ''the toughest babe in business'' in 1997.

''She's very direct in her thoughts and opinions and doesn't mind telling you, and she's extraordinarily proud of her roots in South Carolina and Lake City,'' Fields said.

The institute is using her native Lake City, a rural town in the northeast part of the state, as a petri dish for how to improve a distressed economy.

That includes turning the former bean market, once one of the world's largest for string beans, into a community center, complete with geothermal heating and cooling.

Moore worked quietly through her foundations to renovate the 35,000-square-foot building after former Gov. Mark Sanford called the project pork in a proposed state budget.

Restoring the 1930s-era building was a passion of her father's, Gene Moore, that she wanted to complete, said Joe Rogers, chief operating officer of the Lake City Partnership Council, co-founded by Darla Moore.

''She's a very loyal friend, just an incredible person,'' Rogers said. ''She's smart, funny, intense, incredibly high energy; she's unconventional in a very good way.''

Moore was the governor's appointee to the University of South Carolina board between 1999 and 2011, and for at least several years, was the only woman on the board.

Gov. Nikki Haley summarily ousted Moore last year and replaced her with a campaign donor, saying it was time for a change and no one was entitled to public office. Moore's removal prompted a protest from students and alumni.

In her only response to the flap, Moore held a news conference to announce a $5 million pledge for a new aerospace research center at the university. The Republican governor had convinced legislators to remove funding for the center.

It wasn't clear whether the dust ever settled between the two, but the governor did congratulate Moore and Rice on their memberships.

''Today is a great day for Augusta and for America, as another gender barrier falls. I commend the leadership of Augusta National on their decision,'' Haley said.

One of Moore's passions is gardening, and she's even turning the acreage around her Lake City home - the one her father was born in - into a botanical garden, with 5,000 species of plants and trees, in hopes it could be a tourist attraction for Lake City.

Her other nonprofits include the Charleston Parks Conservancy, which she endowed with a $10 million donation five years ago. The conservancy's 600 volunteers, called park angels, have so far improved 26 parks in downtown Charleston, where she has a home.

''She's an implementer. She knows what needs to be done. When she makes up her mind, it happens,'' said Scott Parker, a conservancy board member.

Moore was mentioned as a possible Augusta National member during the height of the all-male membership debate in 2002. She and former club chairman Hootie Johnson worked on the university's $300 million capital campaign in the late 1990s.

''I am fortunate to have many friends who are members at Augusta National, so to be asked to join them as a member represents a very happy and important occasion in my life,'' she said in her statement.

The true extent of her philanthropy is unknown, and she likes it that way.

''I have never heard Darla use the words never or can't or won't. She's pretty amazing to watch work,'' said Karen Fowler of the Lake City Partnership Council and director of Lake City Art Fields.