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State Sen. Pinckney remembered by Lowcountry mourners

  • Sen. Clementa Pinckney was among nine people shot and killed in Charleston on Wednesday. Pinckney was a 1991 graduate of Jasper County High School.

The Lowcountry was reeling Thursday morning as news spread of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s death in an attack on a historic black church in Charleston.

Pinckney was among nine killed Wednesday night when a white man opened fire during a prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church, where Pinckney served as pastor.

Charleston police named Dylann Roof, 21, of Lexington as the suspect.

A Jasper County native, Pinckney, 41, was first elected to the South Carolina Legislature in 1996 at 23. He had represented Jasper in the state Senate since 2000. He served as pastor at Campbell Chapel AME Church in Bluffton from 2009-10 before joining Emanuel.

Pinckney had a wife, Jennifer, and two children, Eliana and Malana.

“It’s a tragedy beyond description,” said Beaufort County Council chairman Paul Sommerville. “I’m in shock, and I’m sure that his family, our community, state and nation are in shock. I don’t see how something like this could happen in 2015.”

Sommerville said council will observe a moment of silence at its Monday meeting for Pinckney.

Sen. Clementa Pinckney: from the Savannah Morning News and Bluffton Today archives

Helen Pittman, the legislative delegation officer for Jasper County, said Pinckney’s death is a loss for all of South Carolina and described the Democratic senator as “a true statesman.”

Renty Kitty, reverend at St. Luke’s Baptist Church in Ridgeland, said he knew Pinckney for about 30 years and lauded him for his dedication to serve.

“He was willing to give his life to serve others,” Kitty said. “He dedicated his life to serving mankind.”

Edward Darien graduated with Pinckney from Jasper County High School in 1991. He was in the high school choir with Pinckney and always believed Pinckney would be a leader. He thought Pinckney would one day be the governor or president of the United States.

“He was very intelligent and he had a great sense of humor,” Darien said. “From being around him, you always knew he was going to be somebody.”

Jasper County Sheriff Greg Jenkins said the news was devastating. He always remembered Pinckney calling him after he was elected sheriff to talk about being a leader.

“Sen. Pinckney was a very humble man, but very assertive,” Jenkins said. “He was very concerned about the people he served.”

Jasper County Councilman Marty Sauls said he was proud to have Pinckney working on the county’s behalf.

“He was very motivated, always enthusiastic, eager to help, dependable,” Sauls said. “Everywhere you went he had a smile on his face, he knew your name, took time to shake your hand, he always asked how you were, how your family was doing, he took time to help.

“He was a local boy that grew up in Ridgeland, his family is from here; he was a kind-hearted person that truly cared about people.”

Charles Mitchell, a Port Royal police officer and founder of the Concerned Citizens of Jasper County, said he met Pinckney as a young, ambitious person who shared a similar interest in the county’s young people.

“Every time he saw me, he was always motivated to speak to me and encourage me to continue doing community work,” Mitchell said. 

No matter how busy Pinckney was, he would always answer the phone or agree to meet with Mitchell and others when it came to community issues and legislation. More than anything, Mitchell said, he will remember Pinckney for his constant support and encouragement. 

“He just never had a negative thing to say about anything or anyone and he just motivated everyone he came in contact with,” he said.

 

‘He lived that promise’

 

Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens County Republican, choked up on the Senate floor as he spoke of his slain colleague, calling it a privilege to have served with Pinckney.

“I thought back to the words of a great preacher, which we’ve all known Clem to be, that we don’t know what the future holds. But we know who holds the future,” said Martin. “Clem claimed that promise. He lived that promise out.”

Damon Jeter, a lobbyist and Richland County Councilman, said the killing of Pinckney felt like a modern-day assassination, similar to Martin Luther King Jr., given how many people he reached.

“You respected him so much, but he did not require it,” said Jeter. “Even if the (Senate chamber) bell was ringing, and if you said, ‘Sen. Pinckney,’ he would stop in his tracks and listen to you.”

Blaine Lotz, chairman Beaufort County Democratic Party, said he recently attended a “roast” of a mutual friend with Pinckney.

“He was so enthusiastic about life and his work, both as a government leader and a pastor,” Lotz said. “It’s a tremendous loss for South Carolina and the entire faith community.”

Lotz said Pinckney represented various portions of Beaufort County over the years, including some of Sun City.

“A lot of our people knew him. He came and spoke at many of our events,” Lotz said. “He just had a passion for people and had a commanding presence. He was a real spellbinder. If I ever had to speak after him, I always said that was the worst position to be in because of how he captivated the audience.”

Beaufort County Councilman Gerald Dawson said he had a very close working relationship with Pinckney, who represented Dawson’s district.

Last month, Pinckney, Dawson and school board member Earl Campbell held a community forum at Whale Branch Early College High School to update residents on local and state government and education issues. Campbell said he and Pinckney became close when they both ran for office in 1996.

“We were working on quite a few different projects to make life better for this community,” Campbell said. “He was passionate about adequate funding for education in not just this community, but the entire state of South Carolina. He was also doing a lot of work to improve the Jasper County education system and was active on speaking about the condition of our roads.”

Added Beaufort County Councilman Brian Flewelling: “Our districts did overlap until redistricting a couple of years ago. I had several opportunities to meet and talk with him and was always impressed.

“He was a dear and thoughtful man. He raised the intelligence factor of everyone. He just had the ability to make everyone think on a deeper level. His manner was calm and sincere.”

Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, worked side-by-side with Pinckney on the proposal for a two-state Jasper Ocean Terminal on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. 

“Working with Sen. Pinckney on the Jasper project, I saw his deep commitment to the welfare and betterment of all those he represented in the Lowcountry. His devoted voice for the region will be missed. No words can describe the sadness we have for the families of those who lost loved ones and communities who have lost a friend and leader.”

Though he had only met Pinckney in passing, Hardeeville City Councilman David Spisso said he appreciated the senator’s genuine concern and support for the city.

“We intend to do whatever we can immediately to assist people in need and in the long run we will honor Sen. Pinckney’s presence among us and work real hard to carry on his work in this community,” Spisso said.

“It’s a sad loss,” Hardeeville Councilman Mike Sweeney said. “He represented Hardeeville, so we’re going to miss him, there’s no question about it, whether you sided with him politically or not. He was a great guy and a force to be reckoned with.”

Councilman Scott Ready remembers Pinckney most for his availability to his constituents in Hardeeville. 

“We are all heavy-hearted over the heinous crime that took place last night,” he said. “My prayer is that the community will see this as an opportunity to reconcile and to reunite and that our community will come together rather than allow this to further the division.”

 

‘Still in shock’

 

Bob Dixon, a former president of the Democrats of Sun City and political science adjunct professor at Technical College of the Lowcountry, met Pinckney as a guest speaker in his class.

“He was a very decent man and a family person and he has been taken away from us by a very gruesome crime,” Dixon said. “I think his murder and the murder of the people of the church is a crime committed against all decent people in South Carolina.”

Paul Russo, president of the Democrats of Sun City, said Pinckney appeared before the group to provide legislative updates.

“I believe that he was not only well-respected by Democrats within his senatorial district, but was well-respected by his peers in the South Carolina Senate and he was actually loved by his constituents,” Russo said.

Campbell Chapel will hold a prayer at noon Friday for Pinckney. Steward Pro Tem James Gilliard remembered Pinckney as being visible in the Legislature and particularly active in civil rights issues.

“I’m still in shock,” Gilliard said. “It’s horrible that this could happen.”

Gilliard said his cousin, Ruby Martin, was at the Charleston church Wednesday night before leaving prior to the Bible study session where the shooting took place.

First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island will hold a service of lament and hope with scripture and song at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The service is open to the community.

“I’ve been sitting here thinking about what I liked about him,” Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic said of Pinckney, “and the thoughts that come to my mind are his concern for people, his ability to take conflicting issues and try to understand various points of view from various individuals.

“He was a profound individual who had a very calming, but dominant presence.”

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