Put aside the parties and politics for a day. Retired state Sen. John W. Matthews Jr. of Bowman transcends all the divisiveness that pervades government today. If you didn’t know that, you will after today.
Inside Sunday’s Times and Democrat is a 52-page special section celebrating the life and career of the Bowman lawmaker who served more than 40 years in the state legislature, 36 of them in the state Senate. Matthews retired in 2020, not seeking re-election.
He’s known for a keen focus on economic development in an underdeveloped Senate District 39 that includes huge chunks of The T&D Region. He was always out front in supporting educational advancement and the opportunity it can bring. He was straightforward in battling poverty as the root of inequalities that keep all places in South Carolina from offering equal opportunity.
Make no mistake, Matthews was and is a Democrat, but his approach to governance and leadership was more statesman than partisan. You’ll see that in the praise for him that comes from Democrats and Republicans, from leaders on the national, state and local levels, from business, education and community figures, and from his constituents.
The number of sponsors for today’s tribute section alone is testament to Matthews’ successes and influence. Yet within the pages are stories that document through words and images the roles Matthews played locally and beyond for his state, district, counties and towns, including his native Bowman. You’ll also find a look back at his life and career via new interviews and through coverage from the pages of The Times and Democrat over the past 50 years.
A special feature of today’s section is “Messages to Matthews,” written contributions from people reaching out to wish the former senator well, telling of their experiences with him and offering examples of what his service has meant. The messages speak volumes, coming from all over and from contributors as diverse as the governor and former governors to friends and constituents from his District 39.
• Gov. Henry McMaster: “It is a privilege to know such a man as Sen. John Wesley Matthews Jr. His gentle, kindly manner is fortified by a profound understanding and knowledge of the people of his state, its history and its institutions. His contributions are many and his impact -- especially in the Senate – is invaluable.”
• Former Gov. Dick Riley: “Sen. John Matthews is a state treasure. During the 14 years I served in the S.C. House and S.C. Senate, and the eight years I served as governor, I never served with anyone who fought harder to improve the educational opportunities for South Carolina’s children than John Matthews. He was an important part of every success South Carolina achieved while I was governor and I am so proud to have John as one of my dearest friends.”
• Democratic Sen. Nikki Setzler of Lexington County: “His service is exemplary, but more importantly, he is the ultimate gentleman. His love of God, family and community is evident in every action. The incredible way he inserts this into his every action inspires and gives hope. John, I thank you for your friendship and for being the wonderful man that you are.”
• Republican Sen. Luke Rankin of Horry County: “Sen. John Matthews epitomizes the term statesman. Graceful, articulate, wise, firm and always one to take the long view in tense matters under debate, Sen. Matthews was a force in our body. These gifts and his keen sense of humor and knowledge of when to invoke it served his constituents, the Senate -- always in an effort to do good for our state.”
• Republican Sen. Shane Martin of Spartanburg County: “I am proud to have served with Sen. John Matthews and the special friendship that we have. We worked together on education issues and feel that we made a bipartisan difference. I miss his smile and fellowship in the Senate. His calm demeanor and wisdom are missed and I wish him the very best in retirement. I just regret that I cannot see his portrait from my Senate desk.”
• Orangeburg County Council Vice Chair Janie Cooper-Smith: “To me, Senator is an idol! He exemplifies the qualities of a positive role model. A role model many young men would like to emulate. He is a people person. He is the same whether wearing blue jeans and a sports shirt or a three-piece suit.”
• Bowman farmer Landy Weathers: “He has been a strong supporter of agriculture, education and development, all of which have been the lifeblood for so many in our area.”
• Ruthie Felder of Bowman: “Sen. Matthews is an honorable man that was always concerned about his constituents and looked out for their best interests. He always listened attentively when you contacted him about any issues. And, unlike some folks, he never forgot his roots. Just an all-around great guy!”
• University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen: “Retiring after almost 50 years of legislative service, Sen. Matthews embodies what it means to be a servant leader. The UofSC system and the entire education community are indebted to his past service and will continue to benefit from all he accomplished for many years to come.”
• DeAnne Gray of Sandy Run: “I worked for the Senate Minority Caucus of which Sen. Matthews was assistant minority leader. I have so much respect for Sen. Matthews, who has a heart for South Carolinians in need and fought every day against those who just didn’t understand what God meant about helping ‘the least of these.’ Sen. Matthews did and went about doing that in his own selfless way.”
There are dozens more contributions in “Messages to Matthews” in today’s section. We urge you to take time to read them all. In conjunction with the wealth of coverage brought together in the special section, they tell the story of a leader whose legacy will live long locally and beyond.