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Six inducted into CHS Hall of Fame

Posted: October 19, 2017 3:08 p.m.
Updated: October 20, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Tommy McLester talks about not only about his father, Thomas E. “Daddy Mac” McLester, who was inducted posthumously to the Camden High School Hall of Fame, but about his last moments with his mother, Amy, who died a little more than a week before the Oct. 12 ceremony.

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A year and a half after Camden High School (CHS) inducted its first honorees into its Hall of Fame, the school added six more names to the list Thursday night: Patrick Davis, Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford, Dr. Paul T. Joseph Sr., Dr. Janet Marshall, Thomas E. “Daddy Mac” McLester and Austin M. Sheheen Jr.

CHS Principal Dan Matthews said Thursday’s ceremony celebrated the inductees’ “true commitment to excellence.”

“Their lives have been a model of how to give back to the community,” Matthews said.

Scott Rankin, who with Rick Todd, headed the effort to create the CHS Hall of Fame, introduced the evening’s first honoree, musician and songwriter Patrick Davis, who graduated in 1995.

“During Patrick’s time at Camden High, he was an honors student, a member of the Key Club, starter for the baseball team, and a self-described, sometimes-saw-the-field member of the football team,” Rankin said. “But what he probably doesn’t remember very well is he was an accomplished basketball player. Wait a minute, ‘accomplished’ is probably too strong of a word. He ‘played’ basketball.”

Specifically, Rankin said, Davis played on a church league basketball team of which Rankin was the coach.

“Patrick and his little brother, Roger, played and Patrick averaged a whopping 2 to 3 points a game. The problem (was) Dale McCaskill and Michael Horton were also on the team. We only had one basketball, so Patrick didn’t get a lot of touches,” Rankin recalled.

He called Davis “an incredible songwriter,” but also painted the “Dog Pound” mural in the CHS gymnasium. Rankin also recalled Davis’ official start to his music career in downtown Columbia, leading to his work in Nashville on projects with a host of stars; his own Midnight Choir with his sister, Megan, and father, Rusty; and -- as Rankin put it -- the “cult anthem” for the University of South Carolina (USC), “Just a Big Ole Gamecock.”

“My wife, Charlotte, and I like to think he got his big start by playing our house in 1997 at a Camden Junior Welfare League party. I think he was paid $75 along with refreshments. Originally, I wrote on here (it was) $150, but I had Charlotte look at it and she said it was only $75,” Rankin said. “We gave you your big break, buddy.”

Rankin pointed out that Davis is the president of the Roger Davis Memorial Fund, which includes special concerts, golf tournaments and other events, founded by his family in honor of his younger brother who was killed in a car crash in 2008. The foundation spreads what are called Roger’s Rules: “Don’t speed, always wear your seat belt and never, ever drink and drive.” Rankin said the fund has awarded $50,000 in scholarships to Camden college-bound seniors.

As all the inductees did, Davis -- who just released his latest EP -- said he was humbled by Thursday’s honor.

“This is a rather extraordinary gift, not just to myself or the inductees; this is a gift to Camden High School. This is a darn good start,” Davis said, referring to the kinds of things that bring him and his fellow graduates back to Camden. “Camden High is an extraordinary place. Camden, South Carolina, is one of those places, if you get here, you never want to leave. And we remember that, and I think tonight is a good to start to that. I’ll be honest with you, I can’t believe I’m being inducted into a hall of fame of any kind. I feel like the last 15 or so years have been very good. I’ve been very fortunate, but also think the next 15 or 20 … I hope I can make you proud for a very long time, because Camden’s made me proud for a very long time.”

Kershaw County Councilman Sammie Tucker introduced Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford as the evening’s second inductee, calling her by the nickname they give each other: “Bud.”

Tucker said he could read Drakeford’s biography from the evening’s program, but decided he’d rather give a more personal introduction to her.

“The thing that I have learned … is that she is always, always a team player. Open heart, open mind,” Tucker said. “When she was the campaign running for city council back in 2004, she used to come to my office and we’d have in-depth conversations.”

He said he was watching a sports broadcast recently when he noticed someone wearing a T-shirt that read “We, Not Me.”

“I think that’s so appropriate for all the things you’ve done here in Camden and Kershaw County. You have opened many doors for a lot of people; you have many followers that will continue to try to live up to your standard,” Tucker said.

He added that Drakeford’s Jackson High School classmates recently named her Jackson Knight of the Year.

“I guess this is the closest I’ll come to winning an Academy Award, so thank you, thank you, thank you,” Drakeford joked as she opened her remarks

She said her daughter fooled her into believing they were applying for a joint award in connection with her daughter’s job and that she realized the truth only after getting a letter from CHS about her Hall of Fame selection. Drakeford also said she was thankful that the Hall of Fame’s organizers had what she said was the foresight to include Jackson High School graduates like her as inductees.

“As you know, Jackson High is right across the street from Camden High and it still serves as the home of the Jackson Teen Center with the Boys & Girls Club,” she said. “Our graduates are proud that it still stands and is being used in service to the community.”

Drakeford touted CHS’ academic and athletic programs.

“Our youth are our future. Education is the key to the doors of success. Whether it is learning one of the trades that we are so sorely in need of today, or going on into a profession that will serve our community, we can never allow our standards to drop,” Drakeford said, pointing to a tuition-free program at Central Carolina Technical College. “There is really no reason for not continuing our education.”

Todd, who had made some comments prior to Rankin, returned to the podium to introduce the next honoree, Dr. Paul Joseph. He said the story of Joseph and his family is the “quintessential American” story, that began in a village south of Bekka Valley in Lebanon.

“It begins about 1895 when Nick, brother of Dr. Paul’s father, Thomas, immigrates from Lebanon and settles in Georgetown, South Carolina,” Todd began. “He sends words to Thomas … to come. Two other brothers come as well. Thomas returns to Lebanon in about 1910 and takes a bride, Paul Sr.’s mother, and he comes back again. So, from Beirut, probably to Marseilles, probably to Liverpool, ending and disembarking at Ellis Island, Paul’s father and his bride land.”

From there, Todd said, the story turned back to Georgetown where Paul Jr. was born. After working with his father selling goods and wares, and then graduating from Georgetown High School and going on to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Paul Jr. decided to become a dentist. His brother, David, settled in Camden and started his own dental practice in 1953. Paul joined him five years later.

“And, you know, he almost did not come here, but he followed the advice of a friend who told him, ‘Camden is a pretty good place, you might want to check it out. You should go there.’ Willie Brockington was that friend’s name and we owe a debt of thanks to Willie,” Todd said.

He went on to talk about how Paul Joseph and his family “immersed themselves in all things Camden,” with each of his eight children attending Camden schools. There is even, Todd said, a “Joseph Box” at Zemp Stadium where Joseph and his son, Michael, attend games on Friday nights.

“Whatever we needed and asked for, he was always pleased and willing to give,” Todd said.

Joseph started his acceptance into the Hall of Fame by thanking his family, including his wife, Margaret.

“I’m proud to be a first-generation American and I thank my God that they came to America, the land of the brave and the free. It’s just unbelievable; this America is a dream come true,” Joseph said.

“What a town Camden is,” he continued, “it has everything to offer a family. It’s small enough that you can get to know each other very well and yes, we’re not too far from the ocean and not too from the mountains -- and whenever we want to participate in some sporting activity the University of South Carolina has to offer, we’re less than a half an hour away. And when we cross the Wateree River, we can pull down the curtain. Isn’t that nice?”

Of his eight children, he said, six are girls, four of whom are teachers and two are nurses. With them and his siblings’ children, the family has grown to more than 40 with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Joseph ended with his favorite cheer: “I’m-a Camden born, I’m-a Camden bred, and when I die, I’ll be-a Camden dead.”

Former teacher Nell Marshall had the pleasure of introducing her own daughter, Dr. Janet Marshall, as the next honoree. Mrs. Marshall explained that while her daughter has not lived in Camden since graduating from CHS in 1977, her success is due in large part to the education she received here.

She said her daughter attended and earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and then decided to take her education even further away: the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

“Her father gave his blessing, but I couldn’t,” Mrs. Marshall said. “I didn’t want her traveling all the way across the country in her little blue Pinto.”

Since earning her Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry, Dr. Marshall has worked for Proctor & Gamble and Miami University of Ohio and is the co-owner of several patents. She is currently a senior lecturer at the university and has won many awards.

“She also plays in a Scottish band and is a good seamstress,” her mother declared.

In accepting her place among the inductees, Dr. Marshall said she enjoyed many of her teachers, from 1st Grade to her time at CHS.

“I don’t remember much about what we studied,” Dr. Marshall said of 1st Grade, “but I remember the class play. My mom had to sew the costume, and I was so proud of being a mouse.”

Later, she developed a love of math and science, nurtured by a dynamic teacher in 7th or 8th Grade. One of the things that set her on the course toward inorganic sciences was having to perform a dissection.

“I’m a physical scientist, not a biologist -- I learned that very fast,” Dr. Marshall said.

She said she enjoyed learning practical science -- “how things are made” -- including the time she learned about combustion engines, something she was “neat” since, when she was in school, girls usually didn’t get exposed to such things.

Dr. Marshall said her father thought every student should take chemistry, so when she got to UNC, she took her first class in that subject.

“I cried what I got my first grade back,” she said, but even though she vacillated at first, she ultimately chose to stick with chemistry, going on to follow that course in graduate school as well. “Graduate work was very hard; I think it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Now, as a teacher herself, she said she loves her students and the coursework she is able to teach. And, she said, she is thankful for the education she received in Kershaw County.

“Public education is not failing and it’s not just for people with privilege and money,” Dr. Marshall said.

Tucker returned to the podium to introduce Tommy McLester, the son of the late Thomas E. “Daddy Mac” McLester, this year’s CHS Hall of Fame posthumous inductee. Tucker called the elder McLester “not only an inspiration to the community, but a mentor to me.”

Daddy Mac’s wife, Amy, passed away in recent weeks, and Tucker said her husband’s induction was very special to her.

“The day she found out, she called me around 10:30 at night and I thought something must be wrong,” Tucker said, “but, no; she was excited about Daddy Mac being inducted.”

Tucker said McLester’s teaching career started in 1935 by driving a Model T Ford to Bethune every day. He then taught at Jackson High School and, later, Camden High School, Tucker said.

“One of the things I admired about him was that he was a man’s man -- he didn’t just tell you what you should do, he showed you how to do it properly, with dignity and pride,” he said.

Tommy McLester said his mother called him, too, when she found out his father was going to be inducted into the 2017 Hall of Fame class. He said she wanted him to come up from Atlanta and escort her to the podium to accept on Daddy Mac’s behalf.

Unfortunately, she passed away before that could happen.

“I was able to hold her hand as she took her last breath and tell her that I loved her and loved Daddy Mac,” Tommy McLester said.

He recalled how his father took young men from Jackson High to the Ocean House resort in Rhode Island between 1947 and 1974 so they could learn life lessons from him.

“Many of those young men are now outstanding servants across the country,” Tommy McLester said.

He said his father lived a peaceful, restful retirement until passing away at the age of 100 in 2011.

“But he lives on in the hearts of all of his students,” he said.

Finally, State Sen. Vincent Sheheen introduced the last of the new inductees: his uncle, Austin Sheheen Jr.

“He has been married over 60 years, has seven daughters and so many grandchildren that even I, as his nephew, don’t know how many there are,” Vincent Sheheen joked.

He said his uncle committed to being an example of hard work. He married at 19, transferring from Clemson University to USC. After graduation, Sheheen Jr. opened what was then, in 1959, the only certified public accounting firm in Camden.

“He is the hardest working man I know,” Vincent Sheheen said. “He can work men and women who are 40 years old under the table. But he also leads a life of enjoyment, contentment and love, and he learned these values at home and at Camden High School.”

As he took the podium from his nephew, Austin Sheheen remembered that when he was growing up, there were only two schools in Camden: a K-8 primary school and a 9-12 secondary school. He recalled riding his bike to classes, and that out of 270 students in grades 9-12, there were only 63 students in his graduating class.

“We had the movie theater, soda shop, drive-in restaurant and CHS football,” Austin Sheheen said. “I lived next door to the woman I married.”

It wasn’t an instant love match, though. Back then, he said, football players like him only dated cheerleaders, and Joan wasn’t one of them.

“So, I nominated her to be a cheerleader, she got it and we began a relationship,” he said.

That union produced not only his seven daughters, but 25 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.

“The only reason I got elected to public office is because I married off my daughters,” Austin Sheheen said to cap off his remarks.

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