SC Sen. John Scott, 33-year veteran of the Statehouse, dies at age 69

COLUMBIA — South Carolina state Sen. John Scott, a Democratic legislator for 33 years, died Aug. 13 at the Medical University of South Carolina. He was 69.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, son, and brother, Sen. John L. Scott Jr., who passed away peaceably while surrounded by family and close friends,” his family said in a statement. “We ask the community to keep his family in prayer.” 

A cause was not immediately announced.

Scott, owner of a reality company, was first elected to the state House of Representatives in a 1990 special election. He won his Senate seat representing northwest parts of Richland County in 2008.

“God took one of his most precious angels and perhaps one of his greatest public servants to serve the state of South Carolina,” said Antjuan Seawright, a longtime consultant for state Senate Democrats.

In recent years, Scott focused on expanding high-speed internet access across rural parts of the state and increasing funding for South Carolina’s historically black colleges and universities.  

The 1975 graduate of South Carolina State University had become a fixture on HBCU campuses as he sought to make them centers of excellence for a particular specialty, said Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat.

The initiative, which he dubbed SC HBCU Institutes of Innovation and Information, has received $1.4 million through the state budget over the last two years.

Other state funding he sponsored for private HBCUs this year and last include $450,000 for Morris College is Sumter, a combined $350,000 for Voorhees University in Denmark, $100,000 for Allen University in Columbia, and $50,000 each for Benedict College in Columbia and Claflin University in Orangeburg. 

“He was very proud of those accomplishments,” Hutto said about the HBCU initiative. “John was somebody all the Senate respected. He worked hard. He put in the time and energy to understand issues.

“We’re all going to miss John,” he continued. “He was not only a wonderful public servant but also just a tremendous person.” 

Rep. Leon Howard, chairman of the Richland County legislative delegation, said his lifetime friend and Statehouse colleague was passionate about raising people’s quality of life. He said giving people a life-changing opportunity factored into who he wanted to appoint to positions in Richland County, including magistrates, which are judgeships decided by state senators.

“He constantly talked to people about being good stewards of their finances and being able to retire comfortably,” Howard said. “He talked about giving people opportunities who didn’t have opportunities.”

In 2018, Scott was picked by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Marguerite Willis as her running mate when she was still in what would be an unsuccessful run for the party nomination. But she touted the pick as a historic opportunity to pair a woman and an African American on the ticket for South Carolina’s top two posts.

“When I thought of the kind of lieutenant governor I wanted to run with, I knew I wanted someone with integrity, someone with a history of serving their community, someone who has been a voice for change in our state,” Willis, a Florence antitrust attorney, said at the time.

Lawmakers were stunned by the news of Scott’s death. The last legislative meeting he attended was an Aug. 2 gathering of the Richland County delegation regarding disputed Master-in-Equity Joseph Strickland. Scott was among those voting not to reappoint Strickland and to declare the seat vacant. Strickland alleged in a lawsuit that he wasn’t being reappointed because of a personal grudge from Scott, which the senator denied. 

The state Supreme Court ruled in Strickland’s favor a week later and ordered the delegation to send his name to Gov. Henry McMaster for reappointment. 

McMaster said he will order all flags on state-owned property to be lowered in honor of Scott’s service to the state once funeral arrangements are announced. 

“Peggy and I extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sen. John Scott,” McMaster said in a statement. “He has had a profound impact on Richland County and all of South Carolina. He will be deeply missed. May God bless him and his family.” 

Scott was a former clerk and deacon of his church, New Ebenezer Baptist. 

He leaves behind his wife, Joan, and son John Scott III. 

Funeral arrangements are being made. A special election will be held to fill the remainder of his term.

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