William R. Bradford Jr. was the kind of man who ran into the cold to rescue a woman being attacked by dogs in his neighborhood, with no thought given to his own safety.
Bradford was the kind of powerful man around town who advocated tirelessly through his pulpit in the Fort Mill Times to right the wrongs he felt needed fixing – and he frequently won those battles.
Mr. Bradford passed away Friday under hospice care in Rock Hill. He was 97.
At home, he was the kind of gentle man that wrote love letters to his wife, Helen, whom he was married to for 68 years, including a letter just days before they married in 1940. She treasured that letter and kept it in a box of mementos in the family living room. He was the kind of man who heard his young daughter’s pleas for a baby blue English-style bicycle and, knowing they were only sold in black, painstakingly hand painted one for her so that Christmas was perfect.
Bradford’s warm home life is remarkable when you consider the pressure and responsibility that came with his day job as publisher of the Fort Mill Times from 1943 until 1979. Bradford was a jack-of-all-trades, working on all parts of the newspaper operation from writing the news to running the printing press and linotype machine. He typically had three employees, said his son, Billy Bradford, who helped him with everything from writing the news to printing and delivering it.
“It was tough, physical, dirty work,” Billy Bradford said. “Always approached with a coat and tie.”
Work life and family life were often intertwined, as the newspaper business was somewhat of a family affair. Billy Bradford often helped his dad catch papers off the press and fold them. Helen Bradford proofread pages of the newspaper at night after dinner and wrote the society news.
Both Billy Bradford and Bradford’s daughter, Camille Bradford Hugg, were welcome in the Confederate Street office to visit their dad. Hugg remembers rollerskating around the outside of the office, waiting for the end of the work day.
“I can still smell the ink if I think about it,” said Hugg.
The news didn’t stop for vacations, so from time to time Bradford would print a vacation edition of the Fort Mill Times that would allow him to enjoy a break with his family.
These abbreviated versions of the paper would usually feature a funny photo of Bradford on the front cover, one time in a fishing boat with a straw hat covering his face.
Every week was a push toward deadline day. Bradford’s watch was always on his wrist, even until his death.
“He was a deadline man. He would always be checking his watch,” Hugg said.
“Time was such an issue for him, and we know it was because of the weekly deadline at the paper,” Billy Bradford said.
Despite the drive to get the newspaper out each week, Bradford made family a priority. He attended every school event, Hugg said, and he took her to school every morning.
“He was always here, for everything. I don’t know how he managed it,” Hugg said.
When Billy Bradford was in college, he and his dad adopted a weekly ritual of celebrating each met deadline with a round of golf. As soon as the weekly newspaper was put to bed, “we’d play until we couldn’t see the ball any more. That’s how he broke the dividing point between one issue and getting ready for the next one,” Billy Bradford said.
As publisher of a small town newspaper, Bradford often served as the community welcoming committee and area information service.
“Bill and his family were one of the first to welcome the McCraes to Fort Mill over 50 years ago,” said Angie McCrae, president of the Springs Close Foundation.
“Bill was the voice of Fort Mill as evident from his ‘No Foolin’’ column. He could teach James Kilpatrick a thing or two about English grammar and syntax! What a wonderful man and friend. We miss him.”
Looking back on their dad’s life is like looking at a “body of work,” Billy Bradford said.
As children, they only understood their dad to be busy. As adults, they could see the important work he was doing for the town. Bradford successfully advocated for a traffic light to be placed at the intersection of Hwy. 21 Bypass and Hwy. 160, near The Peach Stand. Few people know that he also spurred authorities to replace Doby’s Bridge in the 1970s.
The bridge was named for Bradford after it was reconstructed. A small plaque bearing his name is on the bridge.
It’s an unobtrusive, quiet nod to Bradford’s accomplishment, not unlike Bradford himself.
“He was so humble and gentle, and patient,” said Patricia Guilfoyle, former publisher of the Fort Mill Times. “He was always very kind and helpful when I went to see him or had a chance to call on him.”
Guilfoyle remembers going to Bradford’s home to tell him that the Times had established a journalism scholarship in his honor.
“I’ve never seen him so emotional. He just kept saying, ‘That’s so kind of you.’ Education was so important to him and a journalism scholarship was the best of both worlds. He always knew education was the core of what Fort Mill was all about, and if we had a good education system, everything would be OK.”
After retiring from the Fort Mill Times, Bradford went on to serve the town as a magistrate and member of the school board. He was the author of “Out of the Past,” a book about the history of Fort Mill, and was a lifelong member of Unity Presbyterian Church.
Bradford was a man who loved the mountains, enjoyed watching snow fall, and could carve an amazing pumpkin. He was an oil painter and painted the things he loved – his church, his home and beautiful mountain scenery.
He listened to big band music frequently and loved the history of that musical era. A graduate of Davidson College, he was named “Most Loyal Fan” at a game in 2003.
His childhood home stood near where Unity Presbyterian Church’s new sanctuary is now, but Bradford spent the last 60 years living in a house just a few blocks from there on Unity Street. His home is filled with family pictures and memories that leave visitors with the feeling that they are seeing a lifetime of love framed on walls and placed gingerly on shelves in those living spaces.
“It might not be the finest place, but it’s my heaven on earth,” Bradford once said to his daughter while sitting in his yard on a nice day.