‘A great friend of the Lowcountry’: Arthur Ravenel Jr. remembered
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - People from around the Lowcountry are remembering one of its most prominent natives, Arthur Ravenel Jr., who died Monday at 95, his family confirmed.
His son, Thomas, posted a photo on his Twitter page with a simple message: “Rest in Peace Dad 3/29/27–1/16/23.”
Arthur Ravenel, Jr. was born in Charleston in 1927 and graduated from the College of Charleston in 1950. He served in the South Carolina House from 1953-1958. Later, Ravenel served in the Senate from 1981 to 1986 and again from 1997 to 2003. He was also a member of the U.S. Congress from 1987 to 1995, before eventually being a member of the Charleston County School Board.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham also took to Twitter, saying he was very sad to hear about the death of Ravenel, who he said led one of “the most eventful lives” in state politics.
“He was a larger-than-life character,” Graham said. “He loved Charleston and focused on the needs of the First Congressional District, culminating in the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, which remains transformative for the area.”
Graham called Ravenel a strong supporter of the military and the American veteran.
“He understood that one of the primary jobs of members of the federal delegation is to make sure that South Carolina’s needs were met,” Graham said.
“He was a charming man with a wonderful accent, and he was a quintessential Lowcountry man,” Bill Sharpe, Lowcountry native and longtime former anchor for Live 5 News, said. “There have only been three natural politicians. Arthur Ravenel was one of them.” Sharpe said the other two, in his opinion, were Ronald Reagan and current North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
Ravenel recalled in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press that he was first elected to the House in 1952 as a Democrat when there were virtually no Republicans in the state.
“You just heard about Republicans,” he quipped. “Sherman was one,” an apparent reference to Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who burned much of Columbia during his March to the Sea in February of 1865.
Ten years later, Ravenel got involved in the state’s fledgling Republican Party and was a national convention delegate in 1964 when Barry Goldwater was nominated for president.
Ravenel was elected to the state Senate as a Republican in 1980.
“The Democratic Party was getting more and more liberal,” Ravenel recalled. “As it got more liberal, we were able to recruit more and more people to run.”
In 1986, Ravenel was elected to Congress from the coastal 1st Congressional District. He left eight years later to seek the Governor’s Mansion, but lost the GOP runoff to David Beasley, who went on to become governor.
Two years later, Ravenel returned to the state Senate on a platform of creating an infrastructure bank to pay for costly highway projects. The bank was instrumental in helping build the Charleston bridge, which had been discussed for decades but for which money could not be found.
A historical marker at the namesake Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge states the structure was named by an act of the state’s General Assembly in honor of the man “who enthusiastically spearheaded a broad-based effort to secure the funds for its construction.”
The bridge, which opened in July of 2005, replaced two older bridges, the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge and the Silas N. Pearman Bridge. When the bridge opened, it was the longest cable-stayed bridge of its time in North America and the tallest structure in the state, according to HDR, the architecture and design firm that built it.
“Very bright man,” Sharpe said. “He got a lot done for the Lowcountry. Brought the Republican party here, got established, and his crowning achievement was he got the Arthur Ravenel Bridge built here.”
Known to political friends and foes alike as Cousin Arthur, Ravenel’s ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and during the heated debate over removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome in 2000, he once referred to the NAACP as the “National Association for Retarded People,” bringing calls for his resignation.
He later voted to remove the flag from the dome and place a similar one at the Confederate Soldier Monument on Statehouse grounds. Ravenel defended his actions by saying he didn’t have a racist bone in his body, and African American colleagues said he was willing at times to help get their bills passed.
Ravenel touched the lives of many in the political world, including Maurice Washington, chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party.
“Never saw left or right,” Washington said. “Democrat or Republican. He always looked towards the future. Wanted to do what’s best for people.”
Ravenel, a businessperson and private investor, loved the Senate above his other posts.
“You’re dealing with people with soft Southern voices, and everyone is very polite,” he recalled. “It’s small, and with 46 members, you can get something done.”
Congresswoman Nancy Mace tweeted, “Today we lost a great friend of the Lowcountry and former Representative of South Carolina’s first congressional district - Arthur Ravenel Jr. Our prayers are with the Ravenel family this evening.”
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg released a statement upon hearing of the passing of the former congressman and state senator:
Cousin Arthur loved Charleston in his bones, and Charleston loved him back. Over the course of 95 remarkable years, he was a Marine, a business leader, a family man, and a distinguished public servant at every level of government. Put simply, his was a life in full -- a life of joy and meaning and consequence -- and he will be much missed.
“When you can go through this life at 90-plus years and never hear someone speak bad of an individual, that tells you something,” Washington said. “That this person was genuinely loved by all and lived a full life. A true life.”
Funeral services for Ravenel were pending.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.