By Luana M. Graves Sellars

“No person was ever honored for what he received.

Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”

Calvin Coolidge

The Bible says, “Honor a physician with the honor due unto him…” and Dr. Hector Esquivel has lived a life of service that deserves the highest honor and respect. I discovered this when Dr. Esquivel allowed me with a glimpse of his life through his memory book which contained handwritten and typed notes and letters from his grateful patients that are a testament to his “kindness and gentleness.” I saw nearly a hundred newspaper clippings that were titled: “A Message of Thanks,” “My Heartfelt Thanks” “I Wish to Extend My Grateful Appreciation,” “My Sincere Thanks,” “Many Thanks.”  These words from his patients conveyed the deep feelings of love and appreciation for this man who has dedicated his life to others.

Dr. Esquivel knew from his early childhood that he was going to be a doctor. His giving heart and will to serve others, is what drove him to leave home at an early age to study medicine. We expect a high level of caring from doctors, and most doctors do have a high level of selflessness, and a desire to facilitate the healing of others. But Dr. Esquivel is no ordinary man and no ordinary doctor. I knew this as I examined the framed certificates that affirmed his qualifications as a surgeon, but more impressive than seeing them were his additional endorsements; ones that in my mind, distinguish him from the ordinary, and further elevated him above his peers.

But, wait.  I’m getting a little ahead of the story. Born in Columbia, South America, Hector Esquivel Sr. left home at a young age to pursue a better life in America as well as to perfect his craft as a surgeon. Following successful careers at Temple University Hospital and eventually as the Chief of Staff of Locust Mountain Hospital in Shenandoah, PA, the Esquivel family relocated to Hilton Head in 1983. The island had a completely different look back then. Highway 278 was nothing but a long stretch of trees. “I remember when the main source of income for the town of Bluffton was speeding tickets,” says Hector Sr. Life here was much simpler then.

On the island, the Esquivel family stood out because of their proud heritage, their cultural identity and the language they spoke. And yet, they were determined to fit in; to become an integral part of their new community in South Carolina. Generational lessons that became rooted in a strong system of values and the desire to give to others is just how the family is. Even the Esquivel children ended up becoming role models at a young age. “In school, since I was the only Spanish speaking kid there, I was the ESOL program. Every time a new Latino child came to the school, they would pair us together,” says son, Eric Esquivel.

Considered to be among the first professional Hispanic families to live on the island for over 30 years, the Esquivel’s have been forging their path to improve the lives of Hispanics ever since. On staff as a surgeon at Lowcountry General Hospital and Beaufort Memorial, Dr. Esquivel has a well-known reputation for being an empathetic, soft-spoken and humble doctor with a gentle disposition and a generous spirit.

Dr. Esquivel says that he’s slowing down from his practice in Ridgeland, but he’s also admits that he is experiencing withdrawal symptoms as he moves away from the operating room, which he calls a “majestic place.” Today, even though Dr. Esquivel says that he is retired, he continues to give to those who are less fortunate. He spends his days accepting patient calls on his cell phone, seeing patients and providing not only low or no cost medical services to locals who do not have insurance, but he actually makes house calls and when necessary, he even drives his patients to the hospital.

Currently, he is opening up a small office in the La Isla Magazine offices where he will be working without a staff.  What really makes him special, is that he doesn’t see that what he does or his work as a big deal or realize the impact that he is having on the community as he cares for those that are underserved. “I never feel that I’m doing too much of anything,” he says. “I only wanted to bridge the gap for Hispanic people who needed medical care, but didn’t have access to good quality care or the ability to afford it.”

Married to his wife Barbara for over 48 years, they were role models for their three children. They instilled in their children a strong set of values: work hard, have a strong sense of culture, be true to yourself, and always give something back to the community.

The lesson of giving and the importance of community service, was not lost on the children; it has become the family business. His eldest son, Hector, Jr. is a local immigration attorney, who works to educate and bridge legal gaps in information for the area’s local Hispanic population. The younger son Eric, is the Publisher of La Isla Magazine, whose mission is to provide a Spanish language magazine that connects our diverse Lowcountry Hispanic community as a resource for information and through events and entertainment.

In addition to the magazine, Eric and Hector Jr. are founding members of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, which has been instrumental in challenging the state on immigration laws that discriminate against Hispanics as well as provide accurate information to immigrants.

When asked how he would describe his father, Eric says, “he is my hero. He is and has lived the American Dream. He has never let anything get in the way of what he needs to get done; he gets it done through determination, hard work and motivation. He just wants to be in service to others.” 

Together, the family has built a network of connections that reach the often underserved Hispanic Lowcountry community from every conceivable angle. Today, they are often considered the face and voice of Lowcountry Latinos, and the Esquivel’s have taken on a role that few people would dare attempt. The Esquivel’s have made it their life’s work to improve not only the lives of all of the Latinos in our community, but to help non-Latinos to better understand the similarities and differences in their culture. According to Eric, “to have a business that does good works in our culture and to be a resource and live in the South, is the best of all worlds.” Based on the visible and positive impact that the Esquivel’s are making in our community every day, I couldn’t agree more.

Hector and Barbara are no longer with us, but the significance of their impact in the lowcountry will live on forever.

                        For more First Families of Hilton Head stories, click here.                                                                                                        

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