A long-serving elected official who held public office as a Republican and Democrat is dead at the age of 90.
According to reports, GOP South Carolina state Sen. Hugh Leatherman died Friday morning at his home in Florence. Despite his party affiliation, he continued to be popular among many state liberals even after leaving the Democratic Party in the 1990s.
“We take solace and joy”
Leatherman chief of staff Quentin Hawkins confirmed the news of his death in a statement this week.
After he was first elected as a Democrat in 1980, he went on to ascend to the influential position of president pro tempore in the state Senate. He subsequently attained the coveted spot of Senate Finance Committee chairman.
He has served in the chamber continuously since he was first elected but was recently placed in hospice care at home following the discovery of inoperable cancer during surgical treatment for an intestinal blockage.
“While his passing brings us great sorrow, we take solace and joy knowing that until his last days, he was active in the Florence community and continued serving the people of Florence and South Carolina as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee,” his family said.
The statement went on to describe Leatherman as a “stubborn optimist” who continued drafting budget details from his hospital bed.
“We will miss him”
“While most knew him as Mr. Chairman, we do and always will know him as a loving and caring husband, dad, and granddad,” his family concluded.
Reports noted that Republican Gov. Henry McMaster offered a statement in which he expressed his condolences to the senator’s loved ones.
“A powerful force for the progress and prosperity of our people has left us,” he said. “For over 50 years, Hugh Leatherman poured his life into our state and we are the better for it. He loved his work and kept his word. He never quit. We will miss him. May God bless him and his family.”
As with almost any longtime elected official, particularly one who switched parties mid-career, Leatherman attracted political opposition from across the ideological spectrum. He routinely butted heads with former GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, who endorsed a primary challenger against him in 2016.
At the same time, he amassed a wide network of allies from both parties, as evidenced by a statement from the South Carolina Senate Democratic Caucus, which wrote: “We were saddened to hear the news this morning that our colleague, State Senator Hugh Leatherman, has passed. Every member of our caucus feels incredibly privileged to have worked alongside Chairman Leatherman for a period of time in his impressive tenure in the South Carolina Senate. His wisdom and steadfast devotion to public service will be greatly missed.”