Clover and South Carolina mourned Wednesday as word spread of the death of former state Rep. Herb Kirsh.
Kirsh, 84, a Democrat with a reputation for voting with Republicans because of his fiscal conservatism, served in the General Assembly for 32 years. When he left office in 2010, he was the longest-serving legislator in the state. Before that, Kirsh was mayor of Clover and a Town Council member.
Kirsh’s passing Tuesday night after a series of falls over the past two months brought tributes from across the political spectrum.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley served alongside Kirsh in the S.C. House before she was elected governor in 2010.
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“He was always one of the most knowledgeable legislators, especially when it came to the state budget,” Haley said. “Most importantly, he was respected by both sides of the aisle as someone who had a great love for South Carolina and her people. He will be missed.”
A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Friday at Temple Emanuel in Gastonia, N.C., where Kirsh attended services most of his life. Former U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-York, and state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, will speak.
Spratt was “deeply saddened” by the death of his longtime friend and fellow Democrat from western York County. Kirsh and Spratt were defeated by Republicans in the 2010 elections after service spanning three decades.
“Herb Kirsh was the definition of what a legislator should be,” Spratt said. “He was a man of the people who knew the people of Clover and York County better than anyone. He represented people with dedication. He cared about them.”
The family will receive friends from 6 to 9 Thursday night at M.L. Ford & Sons Funeral Home in Clover, and other times at the home of Kevin and Tammy Kirsh, 105 Pressley St., Clover. Burial will be at Gaston Memorial Park in Gastonia, alongside his wife of 59 years, Sue, who died in 2009.
Kirsh’s legacy is all over York County and the state. The Clover Town Council chambers are named for him, and he was instrumental in securing $1 million to help build the College of Business Administration auditorium at Winthrop University in Rock Hill. He also helped preserve public lands for hunting and fishing in York County, said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill.
Winthrop President Jayne Marie Comstock called Kirsh “a man known for his generous heart.”
“York County was fortunate to have this legendary businessman represent us in the S.C. House of Representatives with his wisdom, sense of community and appreciation of higher education,” she said.
The General Assembly is expected to approve a tribute resolution and close a day’s session in Kirsh’s honor when the Legislature returns to session next week, said Simrill, who served with Kirsh for almost two decades.
Kirsh was a lifelong Democrat and, despite his voting record that often aligned with Republicans, always kept allegiance to his party.
“He loved his community and did his utmost to serve it well,” said Pat Calkins, chairwoman of the York County Democratic Party. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his children and with the town of Clover, which has lost a beloved neighbor and friend.”
Kirsh’s family, the sole Jewish family in Clover, moved from New York in 1937 when Kirsh was a child. His father, and then Kirsh himself, ran a downtown department store for more than 50 years.
Kirsh and his wife contributed to dozens of causes and were involved in civic groups and community activities throughout their lives. The Kirsh family’s dedication to Clover will continue after his death. Starting this year, the Kirsh Family Foundation will award an annual $25,000 college scholarship to a graduating Clover High School senior.
“Herb Kirsh and his wife were always advocates for Clover and the people of Clover,” said Granita Boyd, a Clover Town Council member. “More than that, they were community members. They were no different than anyone else. They treated all people with dignity and respect. My own grandmother did work for them many decades ago, and helped with their children.”
Clover Town Councilman Jay Dover, just a teen when he was elected more than 10 years ago, said he learned “a lot of what I know about politics” from Kirsh.
“Mr. Kirsh was a friend, a mentor, and we have lost a great Clover man,” Dover said. “For so many people, Herb Kirsh was Clover. For me, that was true, too.”