Professor’s mission leads to Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series at Horry-Georgetown Technical College
On a Thursday night in February 2017, the Burroughs & Chapin Auditorium at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Conway was filled to capacity. Nearby classrooms were set up with closed-circuit television feeds to handle the overflow of attendees who couldn’t get a seat inside the venue, and there was a palpable buzz of anticipation in the air.
Actor Danny Trejo was in the building.
Known for his roles in “Spy Kids,” “Machete,” “Con Air” and so many more, Trejo was there as keynote speaker for the 10th installment of the college’s Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series.
Trejo’s appearance was to become the biggest on-campus event in HGTC history.
Created in 2008 by physics professor Casey King, the Series grew from humble beginnings with local recovery professionals into multiweek events with celebrity speakers such as Trejo, Louis Gossett, Jr., Craig T. Nelson, Mackenzie Phillips and more, including television’s Dr. Drew Pinsky and Everclear frontman Art Alexakis.
“I want recovery to be seen as a better alternative to a lifestyle that might have negative consequences.” — Casey King
King looks on as students work on lab projects.
King got sober in 2005. If he didn’t get sober, there would be no lecture series to begin with. Like a George Bailey scenario from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it simply wouldn’t have happened because King wouldn’t have been around to make it happen.
A look at HGTC’s website reveals that King created the series to “change the face of recovery and reduce the stigma our society places on those in recovery.”
Clearly, King is a man on a mission.
“When I say, ‘change the face of recovery,’ I want recovery to be seen as a better alternative to a lifestyle that might have negative consequences,” he says.
King, 61, was born in Maybeury, a small town in West Virginia. He said he was the youngest of five children and there wasn’t much to do. But his backyard was a mountain.
“I knew where all the rabbit holes were. I knew where the natural springs were. I would go up and my mom would call me down for lunch and I’d go back up again to play on the mountain.”
It wasn’t all idyllic. There were incidents of sexual abuse when he was four and again when he was seven.
Before King moved away to attend Marshall University, he had already begun his drinking career.
After some fits and starts, he garnered his bachelor’s in physics at Marshall and earned his master’s in nuclear engineering at the University of Virginia.
King spent a year as a radiation specialist with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Chicago before switching to commercial nuclear power as a reactor engineer at the H.B. Robinson Nuclear Power Plant in Hartsville, S.C.
“It was not a high-stress job, but you had to stay in the control room,” he notes. “You couldn’t read, couldn’t eat or drink. You had to sit in the control room for 12 hours at a time. It was extremely boring.”
But soon after he arrived in Hartsville in 1990, he also started teaching math at Coker University. This would change the trajectory of his life.
After leaving his job as reactor engineer, King taught at Coker University, Francis Marion University and Florence-Darlington Technical College.
“At one point, I was actually teaching at all three colleges at the same time,” he says.
He started at HGTC in July 1996, at the same time he was going through a divorce and continuing to teach at Florence-Darlington. He commuted back and forth from Florence to Conway for a semester.
“I would teach full time in the mornings there, get in the car and drive here to teach full time in the evenings.”
King finally moved to the Grand Strand and to HGTC exclusively in January 1997, and currently teaches physics and astronomy for freshman and sophomore-level classes.
One of the first people King met at HGTC was George W. McCauley, professor of biology and golf and sports turf management. Both men started full time in July 1996 and have taught in the Department of Natural and Physical sciences ever since. McCauley said he sees King regularly at college and department meetings.
“Casey is an accomplished professor whose undisputed mastery of his area of expertise is acclaimed and appreciated by both his colleagues and his students,” McCauley continues, adding that King is a noteworthy example of committed scholarship and selfless knowledge transfer.
For McCauley, King’s efforts with the series can only be described as remarkable.
“The Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series has increased awareness of addiction locally, nationally and internationally. Casey can best be honored as a trailblazer in the fight against addiction and a strong advocate for recovery in Horry and Georgetown counties.”
King was named HGTC Professor of the Year in 2019, a testimony to his years of service to the college.
“I was surprised and it was unexpected,” he says.
He must have been on point that year because he also received the Community Advocate of the Year award from FAVOR, a local recovery and advocacy organization now called Access FAVOR.
HGTC’s president, Dr. Marilyn Murphy Fore, calls King the driving force behind the Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series.
“Since its inception in 2008, Professor King’s dedication to the series has played a pivotal role in shaping it into a cornerstone event for both our institution and the broader community,” she says. “Through his expertise in physics and natural science, Professor King has successfully blended academic insight with compassion to foster understanding, empathy, and support for those on the journey of recovery.”
Fore adds that the series stands as a testament to King’s vision of increasing public awareness of recovery while also serving as an educational platform for the many facets of addiction.
“Professor King’s leadership has fostered an environment where students, faculty, and the community can engage in meaningful conversations about addiction and recovery. His tireless efforts have contributed to breaking down barriers, reducing stigma, and showcasing the multitude of methods through which recovery is possible,” Fore says.
Before King began his recovery journey, he toggled between drinking and prescription drugs, especially Xanax.
“The way it would work with me was that I would drink, and then when I got tired of drinking I would take prescription drugs. When I got tired of taking the prescription drugs or if they ran out, I’d go back to drinking.”
After what he called a humiliating car accident involving his children (nobody was hurt), King knew he could no longer continue this downward spiral. This was as close to the proverbial rock bottom as it got for him, but he still struggled.
In 12-Step jargon, there is something known as “planting the seed.” For King, this seed was planted by two students.
“I was teaching an astronomy class, and it was at eight in the morning,” he says. “If you’re an alcoholic, morning classes are horrendous. That semester, two students independently brought me 12-Step literature.”
The impact was not lost on King: These students cared about their professor.
One of these students wrote his name and number on the literature.
“When everything fell apart and I had my car accident, I called him. He told me exactly where to go, what time and what to expect – and that was it. That was the beginning of my recovery. September 15, 2005.”
In 2010, King confronted his abuser and called the West Virginia State Police. An investigation was opened and a detective was assigned.
“Many families came forward with information about their sons or friends who had also been abused but who were now homeless, drug-addicted or dead,” King says. “Nothing could be done without tangible evidence, but I stayed sober through it and don’t think I would have otherwise.”
Keeping the abuse secret for so long was a part of why King felt it necessary to drink.
When he started the series, there were no funds from the college for him to work with, so for years he kept the event simple with local speakers, panels and workshops. But as it grew, he was able to secure some funding from HGTC’s Student Engagement Funds Allocation Committee – enough for King to book his first celebrity speaker, actress Meredith Baxter, in 2015.
Baxter’s appearance paved the way for more celebrity speakers over the years, and booking them got easier for King.
“We had a growing reputation,” King says. “When I got sober, I did not have a good reputation. After I was able to show that this could be done, that I could organize this and that it could be successful, it got easier to bring in other celebrities and the networking began from there.”
Local organizations that have played a role in sponsoring and participating include Shoreline Behavioral Health Services, Grand Strand Health, Lighthouse Behavioral Health Hospital and the aforementioned Access FAVOR.
FAVOR stands for Faces and Voices of Recovery.
Victor Archambeau was FAVOR’s original chairman when it was organized on the Grand Strand in 2015 and is now a board member and medical director with Access FAVOR.
A retired family practice physician with Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island with a subspecialty in addiction medicine, Archambeau recently celebrated 30 years of sobriety.
Having worked closely with King and the series for a decade, Archambeau made no bones about why the organization honored him with the 2019 Community Advocate of the Year Award.
“We felt like we needed to recognize him because of his contribution to recovery understanding – kind of making it a mainstream topic and doing away with some of the stigma associated with it,” he says. “He’s just done a fantastic job. The series has really shined a spotlight on the local recovery community, and Casey is an outstanding advocate and example of recovery.”
If Trejo’s appearance at the Addiction and Recovery Lecture series was the event’s crowning moment, the pandemic threatened to become its Achilles Heel.
“When COVID-19 hit, it took a lot of the air out of the tires,” King says. “There was a lot of momentum that I had with the series that had been lost, but we transitioned to Zoom and did pretty well.”
The Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series survived, and over the course of two years presented speakers in a virtual setting via the Zoom platform, including actor Craig T. Nelson, singer Carnie Wilson, songwriter Paul Williams, linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson and many more.
The series returned to its in-person format in 2023 with actor Todd Bridges on opening night.
On January 25th, actor and comedian Tom Arnold kicked off the 17th installment of the series. Arnold will be followed on three subsequent Thursdays with additional programming.
For King, the pandemic presented other opportunities he wouldn’t have considered before.
“When COVID closed the door to our local 12-Step meetings, my local home group transitioned to Zoom. I volunteered to be the speaker coordinator,” he says.
One of the first speakers he secured was Oscar winner Louis Gossett, Jr., who also spoke at the lecture series in 2016. This blew everything out of the water, and the virtual room overflowed with people from across the country.
This was too much for that group, and King was voted out of his “speaker seeker” post. Undeterred, King formed a different group specifically for celebrity speakers but soon realized that he couldn’t continue to do that either.
“I abandoned that and instead go with speakers from all over the world.”
These global meetings have drawn attendees from the U.K., Germany and Australia in addition to far-flung locales like Tenerife in the Canary Islands and South Korea.
Wes Fondren is associate dean at Coastal Carolina University’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies. He’s also in long-term recovery.
“At the beginning of my journey, I was introduced to Casey and he immediately began having a personal impact,” Fondren says. “He has been a mentor to me in my own personal recovery, and he has been wonderful in giving me opportunities to get involved in service.”
Such service included the lecture series, first in a speaker role and later on the technology side when the pandemic hit. His expertise with the Zoom platform was instrumental in the survival of the series during COVID-19.
Fondren also teamed up with King in his efforts with every iteration of the virtual 12-Step meetings. At last count, those events crossed more than 92,0000 attendees around the world.
“I handle the technology side and Casey handles all the contacts,” Fondren says. “He has this extraordinary network, and it’s a marvel to me that this physics professor in Myrtle Beach has this global network of people in recovery.”
It’s also extraordinary to Fondren that King has arranged for every speaker in the history of the lecture series.
“For four nights a year, he’s gotten at least one but sometimes two or more speakers for the recovery series – and then for this online group, it’s about four speakers a week for three and a half years. He’s gotten every single one of them.”
King has traveled the world to meet some of the folks who have participated in these meetings.
“I went to Belfast and met one of the speakers. We had lunch together and became friends. I went to Brighton, England, and met one of the other speakers last summer.”
King plans to travel to London and Paris with two of his adult children. He and wife Jennifer Neafsey are thinking about visiting South Korea after a pancreatic surgeon he sponsors reaches one year of sobriety.
For a time, King was a single parent to his four children – Zachary (36), Samuel (32) and twins Kinsey and Katelyn (28).
“It was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he says.
When asked about whether retirement is on the horizon, King said it has to be because there are other things he would like to do. But it is clear that he and the Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series are inextricably linked.
“It’s just a synergy with me,” he says. “I’d love a chance to continue doing this after I retire.”
And for those struggling with addiction, King’s advice is simple but decidedly not easy.
“Asking for help is key,” he says. “I have never seen a person yet whose life didn’t improve in recovery – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.”
This year’s Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series takes place on consecutive Thursdays, from January 25 through February 15. For more information, visit www.hgtc.edu/about_hgtc/addiction-recovery
If you are struggling with addiction and want help, contact Casey King at email@example.com