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Lawrence Marion Gressette Jr.


9132 - 2013 Obituary Condolences
Lawrence Marion Gressette Jr. Obituary
Lawrence Marion Gressette Jr.

Columbia

Lawrence M. Gressette Jr., who had a distinguished career in law and business and was for decades a guiding force for his beloved Clemson University, died Friday, July 19, 2013, at his home in Columbia. He was 81 years old and had been in declining health.

Mr. Gressette was a devoted husband and loving father. Equally blessed with intellect, graciousness and an unfailing integrity, he was a leader, a person of deep faith, a good man.

The only child of Florence Howell and Lawrence Marion Gressette Sr., he was born at home in St. Matthews on February 23, 1932. His father was a lawyer and public servant who represented Calhoun County in the state legislature for an unprecedented 47 years, shaping the state through his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee and his role as Senate President Pro Tempore.

Mr. Gressette graduated from St. Matthews High School and enrolled at Clemson College, then an all-male military school, where he excelled in both academics and athletics. He studied history and English literature, his goal to become a lawyer. As a senior, Mr. Gressette served as student body president, co-captain of the football team (he played fullback for the legendary coach, Frank Howard), a battalion commander of the Corps of Cadets and president of the Blue Key Society. He graduated with distinction in 1954.

Shortly after graduation, Mr. Gressette married the love of his life, Felicia Gold, of Shelby, N.C.; they celebrated their 59th anniversary this year. He studied law at the University of South Carolina, pausing after his first year to complete two years of service as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. He returned to Columbia, completed his law studies and graduated first in his class in 1959.

After law school, he turned down offers from several firms to return to St. Matthews with his young family and begin a general law practice with his father. He wanted his children to enjoy the same warm, small-town upbringing amid family that he had experienced.

As a lawyer, Mr. Gressette was expert at cases involving regulated industries such as trucking, natural gas and electricity. His career path would change when South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. merged with Carolina Energies, a natural-gas holding company, in 1982, and leaders of the new company persuaded him to leave law and St. Matthews for a new challenge as a utility executive in Columbia. Mr. Gressette helped lead the newly merged company through the complex process of becoming a diversified holding company called SCANA Corp. When his great friend and mentor John Warren retired as chairman and CEO, Mr. Gressette succeeded him in 1990.

SCANA, the state's only Fortune 500 company, was a sprawling enterprise, but Mr. Gressette felt a personal commitment to its employees and shareholders. For years, it was his Christmas Eve tradition to drop in at power plants to wish those on duty a Merry Christmas and say thanks for their service.

In his years as CEO, Mr. Gressette strengthened SCANA's commitment to serving the community and the people of South Carolina. He was vitally interested in education and relished the chance to visit elementary schools and read to young students.

As a civic leader, Mr. Gressette served as chairman of the Educational Television Endowment of South Carolina and on the steering committee of the South Carolina Governor's School of the Arts. He was a member of the Palmetto Business Forum and the USC Business Partnership Foundation. He chaired the state chamber's business center for excellence in education and United Way of the Midlands. He also served on the board of the Columbia Museum of Art.

More than any of those worthy organizations, however, he loved Clemson. Named a life trustee in 1989, he later served as chairman of the board for an unprecedented eight years, leading the school through a restructuring, two presidential searches, two capital campaigns and toward its goal of becoming one of the country's top 20 public universities. He became a trustee emeritus upon his retirement from the board. Mr. Gressette and his wife relished their visits to Clemson, returning for trustee meetings and, of course, football games. They established a presidential scholarship for students from South Carolina and an endowed chair in Clemson's business school.

Mr. Gressette received many honors over the years. Among them are the Distinguished Service Award from Clemson University and the Tree of Life Award from the Jewish National Fund in 1992; South Carolina's Business Leader of the Year in 1994; the Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest civilian honor, in 1996. In 2000, he received Clemson's highest public tribute, the Clemson Medallion. He also received honorary degrees from the College of Charleston and USC Aiken. He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2003. He served on the boards of directors of Wachovia Corp., Liberty Corp., the Edison Electric Institute and Southeastern Electric Exchange, among others.

Mr. Gressette enjoyed golf, and played it well; he loved to travel and visited Russia, Italy, Sweden, Turkey and many other countries with his wife in retirement. Until illness made it difficult, he was an avid reader, favoring mysteries and biographies. He also enjoyed country music and Jimmy Buffett. He was a lifelong Baptist, serving as a deacon at First Baptist Church in St. Matthews and later worshipping at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia.

Mr. Gressette is survived by his wife, Felicia; their two daughters and sons-in-law, Felicia Gressette and Robert Ruf of Raleigh, and Virginia and Dr. Rhett Spencer of Florence; their son and daughter-in-law, Lawrence Marion III "Bam" and Ann Gressette, of Columbia; and six grandchildren, Meg Spencer Stewart of Chicago, Rhett Spencer III of Clemson, Elizabeth Ruf of Raleigh, and Lawrence Marion Gressette IV, Paul Gressette and John Gressette of Columbia.

Mr. Gressette will be buried in a private family ceremony in St. Matthews. His life will be celebrated in a memorial service at 11 a.m. Monday, July 22, 2013, at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, with visitation at 10 a.m. at the church. Dunbar Funeral Home, Devine Street Chapel, is assisting the family

In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the Gressette Presidential Scholarship, Clemson University, G-01 Sikes Hall, Box 345123, Clemson, SC 29634, United Way of the Midlands, 1800 Main Street, Columbia, SC 29201 or South Carolina ETV Endowment, 401 E. Kennedy Street, Suite B-1, Spartanburg, SC 29302.

Please sign the online guestbook at www.dunbarfunerals.com.

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Published in The Greenville News on July 20, 2013
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