A large crowd filled Kershaw County Council’s chambers to nearly standing-room only capacity Tuesday afternoon to honor former Chairman Steve S. Kelly Jr. Among the many people on hand were so many former council members, current Chairman Julian Burns joked they had enough to fill several quorums.
Burns also made sure all members of the Kelly were on hand, including one of its youngest: Steve S. Kelly IV.
“We can’t start without him,” Burns said, and then invited former Councilman Rev. John Lee to give an invocation.
The first to speak at length, former councilman, circuit court judge, S.C. U.S. Attorney and S.C. State Law Enforcement Division Director Reggie Lloyd said he remembered talking to Kelly when he first decided to run for office 20 years ago.
“I was engaged at the time,” Lloyd said, referring to his wife, Lugoff Elementary School Principal Melissa Lloyd, “and I told him I wanted to get married soon. He warned me not to marry for politics, but I told him I wanted to get her before she knew what she was getting into.”
On a more serious note, Lloyd characterized Kelly’s political demeanor as harkening back to a different day.
“He had dignity and respect for everybody. There was never a time when he didn’t have the best interests of the county at heart,” Lloyd said.
Former Councilman Gene McCaskill said for anyone to be successful, they must be centered.
“And they must be someone of great character,” McCaskill said.
He compared Kelly’s marriage to his wife, Beth, to that of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. McCaskill said much of Kelly’s success grew out of how he raised his family. He talked about how George H.W. Bush was asked about his single greatest accomplishment, Bush’s reply: his children still come home.
“With his wife, Beth, Steve’s three greatest accomplishments are sitting right there,” McCaskill said, pointing out the Kellys’ children, Lindsey, Steve III and Travis, sitting behind them.
Former Councilman John Wells said Kelly worked harder “than anyone knew” in various leadership roles behind the scenes.
“He didn’t talk about it, but what he did helped to move this county forward,” Wells said.
Wells compared Kelly’s role as council chair to that of a coach.
“He would ask us, ‘What do you think?’ and we would tell him. He would say, ‘I see where you’re coming from, but what if we attack it from this angle?’” Wells said, saying Kelly’s gift was finding consensus. “He makes the people around him better; he did that for us.”
When there were crises, Wells said, it brought comfort to him and other councilmen to see Kelly in the chairman’s seat -- someone he said was calm because Kelly had dealt with similar matters before.
Former Councilman Max Ford, who served as interim chairman between Kelly and former Chairman Gene Wise, said he learned a lot from his predecessor.
“He did a lot of hard work and he was a human relations master,” Ford said. “Today, people yell and shout and the loudest person is the most effective at getting attention, but the man sitting here was the polar opposite of that. He was always the quietest and most effective person.”
Ford said during his time on council, the furthest thing from their minds would be to denigrate another councilman or a constituent, calling his fellow councilmen at the time “the most collegial group.”
Following Ford’s comments, Burns asked those in attendance to informally approve the resolution honoring Kelly with a collective “aye.” Council then officially and unanimously approved the resolution, which former councilman Judge Tommy Cooper, read into the record.
Before he did, Cooper talked about being on council with Kelly as chairman during the 1990s.
“I never witnessed any rancor,” he said. “We had difficult, testing moments, but Steve Kelly had a way of listening. He was quiet, but you knew he was in charge.”
Council’s resolution calls Kelly “truly a dedicated public servant and leader of the community” who showed “extraordinary leadership” through his service in various organizations including the S.C. Association of Counties, Wells Fargo Bank Regional Board of Directors, the United Way of Kershaw County, March of Dimes and, especially as a Boy Scout leader and Eagle Scout.
“He was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 2004 (and) chairman of Friends of Scouting, 2007-2008,” Cooper read, going on to include Kelly’s membership with the S.C. Residential Homebuilders Association and work with Habitat for Humanity of Kershaw County.
The resolution states Kelly has “exemplified professionalism” through his service with the Central S.C. Alliance and as a supporter of Kershaw County Mental Health, Kershaw County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs and American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. The Camden chapter of the Jaycees once named him its Outstanding Man of the Year for Distinguished Service.
The resolution also lays out Kelly’s service on Kershaw County Council, starting with his election to an at-large seat which he took on Jan. 1, 1977. He became chairman on Jan. 1, 1991 and, reelected several times, served in that capacity until he resigned in 2010 following his appointment to the Governor’s State Workforce Investment Board. Kelly was elected as appellate panel judge for the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce by the General Assembly that May.
“The superior leadership of Steve S. Kelly Jr. has resulted in Kershaw County becoming a more prosperous county, thus leaving a legacy which is an example for all of us,” Cooper read from the resolution’s conclusion.
Following a standing ovation, Kelly addressed those in attendance, starting off with a joke about something McCaskill once told him.
“He said, ‘Not everybody likes you,’” Kelly said, and then paused a moment for effect, “‘but everybody loves Beth.’”
Kelly then thanked council for the honor saying he was “humbled and grateful.”
“It was a privilege and humbling to serve this county for 33 years. I want to thank each and every one of my former council members. I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the department heads and elected officials -- the entire county family -- volunteers on our boards and commissions … and cooperation with the Camden, Elgin and Bethune council -- it helped to have those great relationships,” Kelly said.
He thanked his family, especially his wife, whom he said has had the task of putting up with him for almost 42 years.
Of his former colleagues Kelly said, “They were strong, independent thinkers, but we discussed things and tried to reach consensus to help this county move forward.”
He then brought his three children up to join him at the podium.
“Sixty-four years ago, I was fortunate enough to be born to parents who emphasized a Christian upbringing and faith in God. I am truly blessed…,” Kelly said, choking up a bit, “…this entire county has had a profound impact on me.”
Burns and current councilmen C.R. Miles, Tom Gardner, Jimmy Jones, Sammie Tucker Jr. and Dennis Arledge all spoke. Miles said Kelly taught him to treat his council work as a full-time job. Gardner said he considered Kelly a friend. Jones said he had known Kelly all his life, having served in the Boy Scouts together.
“You’ve always been there for me,” Jones said. “We haven’t always agreed, but you never tried to shut me up.”
Arledge said he and Kelly and Kelly’s family worked on several campaigns together. Tucker recalled his surprise upon learning how long Kelly had already been on council when he was first elected.
“I asked him, and he said 28 years and I looked at him and told him I was only 27,” Tucker joked.
He said he considers a man’s success based on how he raises his family, and then addressed Kelly’s children.
“There wasn’t a trip or conference we went to when your father didn’t talk about how proud he was of all of you,” Tucker said. “He always talked about you.”
Burns expressed his personal thanks to Kelly and his family for embracing him and his family and also for the example of leadership Kelly provided to him and the rest of council. He then led Kelly and his wife to one side of the council chamber where he helped them unveil a portrait of Kelly which elicited another standing ovation from the audience.