View Mobile Site

Legislators remember Bobby Jones

Posted: January 8, 2018 4:09 p.m.
Updated: January 9, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper (second from left) is joined by members of the Kershaw County legislative delegation after each spoke about Bobby Jones’ legacy: (from left) S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Director Sara Goldsby; State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden; and state representatives Laurie Slade Funderburk (Kershaw County), Will Wheeler (Lee County) and House Speaker Jay Lucas (Darlington County). Wheeler’s and Lucas’ districts stretch into Kershaw County. State Sen. Thomas McElveen (Sumter County) was unable to attend due to winter weather.

View More »

A very large group of people -- elected officials, business owners and community leaders -- crowded into the ALPHA Center’s meeting room Thursday for lunch, an update from the local legislative delegation and to remember the late Bobby Jones.

ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper said he considered Jones -- who he worked with for 25 years -- a mentor. In addition to being a staunch member of the Democratic Party, among his many roles, Jones served as a counselor at the ALPHA center. Fifteen years ago, he also helped put together the annual event for which people gathered on Thursday.

With the program dedicated to Jones’ memory, Napper introduced Jones’ wife, Mary, who spoke to those gathered.

“About 15 years ago, Bobby … and Mr. Napper had a conversation: ‘You know, Mr. Napper, we need to get this community together. We need to get them together in a forum where they can have an informal conversation with all of our legislators,’” Mary Jones recounted. “The dream was born and today here we are and he said, ‘Mr. Napper, I would like this to always be a meeting where people didn’t have to pay a fee.’ Now, he loved nonprofit corporations, don’t get me wrong, but he said there are times when some things need to be free. And he said our legislators need an opportunity to have that conversations, individually, so you can express your views and they go to Columbia and represent us in a fashion we wanted them to.”

Mary Jones said her husband’s idea was that even when politicians -- of either party -- did things those present disagreed with, that members of the delegation should be supported each legislative session.

She also said while there were many present Thursday she could recognize, she especially wanted to recognize Napper’s wife, Deborah.

“Mrs. Napper was part of the ALPHA Center before Mr. Napper was. She laid a great foundation, didn’t she? He takes the credit, but she did the work. Sorry, about that Mr. Napper, but I had to tease her because the last thing she’d want is recognition,” Mary Jones said.

Toward the end of her talk, she shared a prayer challenge from legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in her husband’s memory:

“Today is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I see fit. I can waste it, or use it for good … because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, and not loss -- and not evil. Success, and not failure in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.”

Mary Jones also said that her husband lived by what Thomas Paine said: “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

“If you knew Bobby Jones, you knew that was his philosophy in life. Bobby was kind to not only his family, but his community. And he didn’t walk in a room and see the most important person; he saw all people,” she concluded.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen talked about how Bobby Jones’ philosophy on life can “influence everything we do” in the county.

“Mary talked about how Bobby saw a need to get this group together, to have a casual conversation … where we could just sit around and talk and intermingle,” Sheheen said. “Bobby really believed that you had to work together to accomplish anything. It’s one of the greatest lessons I took away from him. You know, my dad was a fighter … he would fight you if he disagreed with you. He also loved people greatly. Bobby was a little smoother operator. Bobby always worked behind the scenes to accomplish things, and I learned about politics from those two men and I value it greatly. I miss him just as much as I miss my dad, everyday.”

Sheheen then went on to talk about how he’s been in difficult and, even, scary situations.

“But none more so than the first time I went driving with … Bobby Jones. When I ran for the State Senate … Bobby said, ‘Vincent, get in the car.’ I said, ‘OK,’ and I went over to get in the driver’s seat and he said, “No, get in the car; I’m driving.’ Bobby liked to drive me around for some reason, and we go to Chesterfield County. Chesterfield County’s big and there’s a lot of open spaces and Bobby, I learned, he doesn’t always stop for stop signs, he doesn’t always yield to another car. He just kind of thinks everybody stops for him, which, in a way, is kind of how he lived his life. We had a great time, it was such a joy,” Sheheen said.

He went on to say that as he and Jones wound their way through the district, they would knock on doors that would not be answered. Undeterred, Jones would announce he was “going around back.”

“He’s like, ‘They probably left the screen door open in the garage.’ He wouldn’t knock; he’d just walk right in the house and would say, ‘Senator Sheheen is here to see you’ -- I wasn’t a senator, I was running for the senate -- like I was the biggest deal in the world,” Sheheen said. “He could make you feel like a big deal. He made each and every person in this room feel like a big deal. It worked. I can’t say I barge into people’s houses. I still knock on doors and wait for them to come, but I learned that, sometimes in life, you just have to barge in, grab it by the collar and make it happen.”

From a legislative angle, Sheheen spoke about three projects for Kershaw County he said are indicative of Jones’ legacy of seeking collaborative efforts. First, he mentioned the upcoming grand opening of Central Carolina Technical College’s campus near Camden I-20 Exit 98 and then went on to talk about a new tourism effort.

“State Parks, Recreation and Tourism is committed to making us one of their top two destinations on their Undiscovered South Carolina (list) and there’s going to be a lot of great things coming forward I think that we’re going to bring to the table, to make that a reality, to get more business, more people and more tax dollars spent in Kershaw County,” he said.

Sheheen said the ongoing work on Camden’s official truck route is the third example of cooperative efforts to improve life in Kershaw County.

State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk noted that a lot of state legislators remained in Columbia long after the legislative session ended in May 2017. She singled out State Rep. Jay Lucas, who is S.C. Speaker of the House and was on hand Thursday, for his work on dealing with SCE&G and Santee Cooper’s controversial decision to abandon the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in Fairfield County.

Funderburk also spoke about “the spirit of Bobby Jones” and how she is glad she has been a part of what she called the “Bobby and Mary Jones School of Politics.” She also said one way to build on that spirit is through various collaborative projects here in Kershaw County.

“When I think of Bobby Jones, I think of him as an educator,” Funderburk said, “that he wanted to improve the lives of his students through education. And, the Kershaw County school board has put in a lot of effort and putting projects into motion that will do that for the citizens of Kershaw County. It’s also a cooperative effort as you know. The Central Carolina campus being built, right beside it, is just going to be an incredible opportunity for the students of Kershaw County.”

Funderburk also noted Jones’ work as a highway commissioner.

“He knew that South Carolina needed the infrastructure in order for citizens to have jobs, in order for us to be safe, and to compete. But he also did his best to make sure that rural South Carolina had a voice, and I know that he is proud that Gene Branham is serving as highway commission to also bring that rural voice to Columbia, that we now have a new stoplight in Bethune. I know that Bobby would’ve really loved to have been there when you dedicated it,” Funderburk said.

She also told Lucas that Jones would have been proud to see all the roads in South Carolina that are going to be repaired thanks to the 2017 roads bill and Lucas’ leadership to see it passed.

Funderburk also talked about Jones’ work at the ALPHA Center, which she said he undertook because “he wanted to help people.” Lastly, Funderburk said when she thinks of Jones, she thinks not only of relationships, as a husband, father and grandfather, but also with people outside his family. And, she said, Jones liked to have fun.

“I will never forget him telling me that he learned how to shag with a towel tied to a doorknob,” Funderburk said, eliciting a laugh from Mary Jones and those around her. “So I always have that image in my head.”

For his part, Lucas began by mentioning legislation he said is coming out of a recent study of the opioid crisis in South Carolina. Lucas then explained why -- despite some problems getting home from Columbia the night before -- he felt it was important to be in Camden on Thursday, especially in light of a letter Bobby Jones had sent him before the 2017 legislative luncheon.

“I had a number of events that I had to go to (today) and I was leaving Columbia around 5:30 last night and one of the things I really wanted to be at was this because I knew this was going to honor Bobby, and Bobby was an important individual to all of us,” Lucas said. “So, as I left Columbia at 5:30 … and as we rode down the interstates that Bobby was so proud of, I hit the Lee County line and stopped. The traffic had just gridlocked; we weren’t moving. It took me about an hour to get to Exit 108.”

Lucas said he made his way to a BP station he described as being “in the middle of nowhere,” and, as he got back on the road saw two cars ahead of him “flipping” off the road.

“I turned and went back to the High Country BP and stayed in there as long as they would let me, and they closed. I went back to the car and sat in my car wondering how I was going to get home. So, I ended up calling my wife who has a four-wheel drive vehicle and she came and got me. So, my trip from Columbia to Hartsville was five and a half hours with a layover, but not at an airport,” Lucas said.

He said he called the center to say he didn’t think he was going to make it, but at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Lucas said he thought of how important the event was going to be and how he really wanted to be there. So, he got his wife to drive him to Camden.

“It was important to Bobby that all of the delegation come last year. He sent me a letter,” Lucas said, calling back to a point Mary Jones had made earlier. “When you paraphrased that letter, you were a lot nicer than Bobby was to me in that letter--”

“I know,” Mary Jones interjected.

“Bobby essentially told me that I was going to come to this meeting and that if I didn’t, he was going to come and get me and bring me to the meeting so they could have a full house. It was important to Bobby last year that we all came. It was important to Bobby’s memory that we all come this year,” Lucas said.

He also told a story about a check presentation for a Transportation Economic Assistance (TEA) grant that turned into something -- different.

“One day he calls me on the phone and says, ‘We got it.’ And I said, ‘Let’s do a check presentation,’ and he says, ‘No, we can’t do a check presentation, this is just too important, we’re going to have a fish fry and we’re going to invite the whole staff and you and Vincent are going to pay for it,’” Lucas recounted to a roar of laughter from the crowd. “Bobby just had that knack. He was so skilled in politics and, more important than that, he was just skilled in people and how to make people feel better. When we got that (stop) light in Bethune the other day -- every time I saw him, he said, ‘You know I’m from Bethune, I can help you there’ -- I know how proud he would’ve been of that light in Bethune.”

Lucas finished with another story, this one highlighting how he, the Republican Speaker of the House and Sheheen, a leading Democratic senator, took Jones’ desire for collaboration to heart.

“Remember we stood up here last year, and Senator (Thomas) McElveen said it would be a crime if we didn’t do something to fix our roads?” he asked Sheheen. “You called me up on Sunday afternoon at 12 o’clock and said we’ve got a snag, and so I rode over and Vincent and I worked for eight hours. Snags in Columbia can be very small. So, we spent eight hours working on a very small problem and fixed the roads (bill) and it passed both houses. I don’t think there could’ve been a more fitting tribute to Bobby than you and me coming over to deal with that issue.”

Wheeler said his first year in the House has been a learning experience -- one enhanced by being Funderburk’s suite mate and being part of a delegation made up of “folks I can trust” with whom he has also been friends for years.

“I feel so blessed … to have had the opportunity to have met Mr. Bobby in the course of going through my first campaign,” Wheeler said, adding that many people told him he needed to see Jones. “The first time I ever came here and met him, it was like I’d known him my whole life. He was just a sweet, sweet man, and we had a wonderful time.”

Napper wrapped up the formal part of the luncheon by pointing out that the county lost State Sen. Donald Holland 15 years ago and that in 2017, in addition to Jones, Kershaw County also lost Fred Sheheen. Despite those losses, Jones noted the presence of who he said were three “extraordinarily powerful women” in the room -- each of those men’s wives: Betty Holland, Rose Sheheen and Mary Jones.

“They are go-getters, they are fantastic,” Napper said.

Napper reminded the crowd that Bobby Jones had helped create Thursday’s event: “This is old-timey politics where you get here, grab a chicken wing and talk with your representative, your senator, your speaker … the movers and shakers of Kershaw County are right here.”


Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.

Contents of this site are © Copyright 2018 Chronicle Independent All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...