His has been a career of firsts.
Attorney Melvin McKeown helped York County government in the transition to "home rule," its first form of truly local government.
He was there when the county served its first water and sewer customers, and when York became the first county in the state to implement a sales tax program to pay for road improvements.
After reaching 38 years of county service this week, McKeown is retiring as the county's attorney.
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"It's a little bit frightening," said McKeown, 72, who has grown used to 60- to 80-hour work weeks, juggling the responsibilities of his private practice and the county's legal needs.
"My younger daughter told me a few years ago that I really needed to get a life, so I took up photography and fly fishing and I've neglected both of those," he said.
McKeown has been a dedicated attorney, his colleagues say.
"The law is a jealous mistress," leaving little time for much else, said Judge Lee Alford, a circuit court judge for York County.
Alford said McKeown has always been "well prepared" and represented his clients well in court, and "he's done an outstanding job as county attorney," he said.
York Attorney Bill Brice thinks of McKeown as an active trial lawyer who has taken on "complicated cases" with success.
"The county is going to miss him," Brice said.
After earning an English degree at Furman University, McKeown completed a law degree at the University of South Carolina in 1964.
He came to York County for the opportunity to work with William Gist Finley, son of U.S. Congressman David E. Finley.
With Finley, McKeown knew he'd benefit from the "opportunity to work with an older lawyer to get into the hands-on work of the practice, rather than being stuck in the library for five years."
But he always thought he'd be a civil attorney in a private practice in the Piedmont region, he said.
He took elective courses in local government "thinking I'd never use them," he said.
McKeown practiced with Finley until Finley's death in 1969, and later practiced with John McKee Spratt and son, the former U.S. Rep. John Spratt of York.
McKeown began working for the county in 1973, before the state passed legislation requiring openness and ethics standards in government, and before the local government was truly local.
At the time, the state was working on implementing landmark legislation that would change the face of county government.
McKeown saw the county through what he sees as its most important change: the transition to a more local, accountable form of government.
Between 1972 and 1975, South Carolinians and the state Legislature gave county government "home rule," granting counties a "long laundry list" of powers, including the right to create their own budgets and enact local laws, McKeown said.
Several acceptable forms of county government also were created, including the county's current form under which an elected council appoints a manager to oversee the county's daily operations.
York County was the first to adopt that form of government, which was immediately challenged in a case that went to the S.C. Supreme Court, McKeown said. But a high court justice upheld the constitutionality of home rule in the York County case, McKeown said.
In the early 1970s, York County was run by a relatively powerless board of directors comprised mostly of road commissioners, McKeown said.
The county's budget was set by state legislators from the county and approved by the state Legislature. Unlike municipal governments, the county was not authorized to provide services such as water and sewer to its residents and had no authority to enact laws. And county employees wanting a raise had to appeal to the county's state senator or go to Columbia to lobby the Legislature, McKeown said.
It wasn't the most efficient way of conducting business, he said.
Home rule put local issues into the hands of officials elected directly by their citizens. The move was "extremely important," he said.
McKeown said another meaningful milestone in his career was when the county first provided water and sewer services to residents.
Enacting the "Pennies for Progress" 1-cent sales tax for road improvements is another great achievement, he said. It's been crucial to managing the county's rapid growth. York was the first county to implement such a program.
Upon retiring from his county duties on May 1, McKeown plans to continue to work for some of his private corporate clients, he said. But he plans to phase out his private practice over time.
County Manager Jim Baker said McKeown has refused any recognition, wanting to keep the news of his retirement quiet.
It's just like McKeown to act that way, Baker said.
"There are people like Melvin around who love what they do and are willing to make less money in order to be an important part of the community, and I don't think he gets enough credit," he said.
"There's a tendency for people to not recognize what a highly capable attorney he is," since he's focused his career on county government, Baker said.
"He's an institution around here, a York County icon."