Leatherman remembered as ‘humble servant’
Hundreds fill FMU’s PAC to pay respects to late S.C. senator
State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, South Carolina’s oldest and most powerful state lawmaker, was remembered Friday as an astute public servant and family man who wielded his considerable power without pomp or pretense.
“He was usually the humblest person at the table, seldom got angry, and, in 33 years of working together, I can’t recall ever hearing him raise his voice,” Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University, said during services Friday at FMU’s Performing Arts Center in Florence. “No one better understood the nexus between politics and policy, and no one was more strategically shrewd at applying it.”
Leatherman died Nov. 12 at the age of 90, weeks after he entered hospice care following the diagnosis of an inoperable cancer. The Republican represented the Florence area in the state Senate for 40 years.
The Rev. Will Malambri said that he first met Leatherman while serving as a camp counselor for the senator’s daughters, then went on to be one of the family’s pastors. On Friday, he described Leatherman as a lawmaker who worked to connect with his constituents, describing a food-service effort Leatherman spearheaded.
“Hugh didn’t want his public service to inhibit his faith life,” Malambri said. “He may have been ‘just folks,’ but he was among the most powerful ‘just folks’ that I’ve ever met.”
In his 11th term, Leatherman was among the longest-serving lawmakers in South Carolina’s Legislature. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and in a state where the governor has less control, he was long considered South Carolina’s most powerful politician for his dominance over the state budget.
Leatherman also sat on a number of fiscal oversight boards, including the State Fiscal Accountability Authority and the Joint Bond Review Committee. He played a key role in building up the state’s business economy, including backing a massive tax incentive package that helped lure Boeing to the state. A new port terminal in Charleston bears his name.
Among the hundreds of attendees at Friday’s service were numerous members of the state Legislature, including dozens of current and former senators who also served as honorary pallbearers.
Former Gov. David Beasley, who led the state in the 1990s and currently serves as executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, was in attendance, as were current Gov. Henry McMaster, House Speaker Jay Lucas and other statewide officials including Attorney General Alan Wilson and Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers.
After the service, Leatherman’s family hosted a reception on the grounds of the Francis Marion Performing Arts Center.
Leatherman had just been reelected last year. A special election to fill the remaining years of his term is scheduled for March 29, according to Senate President Harvey Peeler. Filing is scheduled for Dec. 3, and a primary will be held Jan. 25.
Leatherman’s death has created a power shift for control of the chamber, as well as its committees. Peeler, a Gaffney Republican who entered the Legislature the same year as Leatherman, is slated to take over the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, a move that will require him to step down as president of the chamber.
Sen. Thomas Alexander, a Republican from Walhalla, is likely to take on that role.
“Team South Carolina has lost one of its true economic champions,” said former S.C.Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt.
Carter, Leatherman’s longtime friend, closed his eulogy by recounting Leatherman’s significant imprint on the Florence area.
“This region has lost an iconic leader, and many of us have lost our dearest friend.”