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‘A quiet leader’: Longtime public servant, SC Rep. Ronnie Young dies at 71

S.C. Rep. Ronnie Young, R-Aiken County, died Sunday.
S.C. Rep. Ronnie Young, R-Aiken County, died Sunday.

S.C. Rep. Ronnie Young died Sunday after an illness, according to officials.

Young, 71, died at 4:15 a.m. at his home, according to Aiken County Coroner Darryl Ables.

“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that Representative Young passed away this morning as a result of his illness,” S.C. House Clerk Patrick Dennis said in an email.” Representative Young’s family wanted to offer sincere and heartfelt thanks for all of the kindness that his House family has shown him through his illness and they ask for your continued support and prayer as they deal with their loss.”

Young, a Republican who represented District 84, had cancer and suffered a stroke several weeks ago, according to the Aiken Standard.

“Aiken County has lost one of its most loyal and beloved public servants,” S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said in a tweet Sunday afternoon. “Ronnie Young’s mortal body could not keep pace with his indomitable spirit and tireless service.”

A wake will be held for Young on Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at Christian Heritage Church in Graniteville. A funeral service will be held at the church the next day at 11 a.m.

He was the longest-serving council chairman, according to Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian, who described Young as “a low-key kind of guy.”

“He went to meetings all the time, but he was not the kind of guy that had a big, gregarious personality,” Killian told The State. “He was a quiet leader. He always worked behind the scenes to have issues resolved.

“We haven’t had a lot of divisiveness on our council, and I think that’s due to his leadership,” he continued. “He was able to build consensus among all sorts of interests and parties.”

During his years on County Council, Young made economic development one of his primary focuses.

“He knew if people could get a job, they could take care of themselves and their families,” Killian said.

Aiken County Council Vice Chairman Andrew Siders echoed Killian’s sentiments about Young being a quiet but effective leader.

“He didn’t say a lot; he listened, and then when he said something it was powerful and it meant something,” Siders said. “He was always very measured on what he said but he was always taking everything in.”

S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said “the list goes on and on” for Young’s positive contributions to Aiken County. He said Young was instrumental in the openings of two Bridgestone plants, the opening of MTU, which produces diesel engines and components, and the expansion of plants like AGY, Owens Corning and Kimberly-Clark.

Kimberly-Clark’s Aiken County plant is now its largest with the most recent expansion, the senator noted.

“He was elected county-wide multiple times to be chairman of county council, and he never forgot any of the smaller communities in the county,” Young said of his late legislative colleague.

S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said Young will be remembered not just for his long career of public service, but his selflessness while carrying out his duties.

“While he never sought personal accolades, he deserves much credit for the economic growth of Aiken County over two decades,” Taylor said Sunday evening in a statement to The State. “With a vision toward the future, he was a driving force in recruiting industry and jobs to our area. Always ready with a quick smile and a laugh, Ronnie didn’t know a stranger and was always available to listen to citizens whether at big gatherings or at small town community events across the county.”

Young’s passion for his community and state carried him to the State House in May 2017, when he won a special election to replace a former representative who resigned. Before that he was a longtime member of the Aiken County Council and also served on the Aiken County School Board and the S.C. Association of Counties, according to the state legislature’s website.

“Chairman Young decided that he needed to serve his community and his county and his state in the General Assembly, and he gave up being chairman of County Council and ran to be a freshman House member,” Tom Young said.

At the State House, Young offered insight on a variety of issues including interactions between county and state government and on education, Tom Young said, and he sat on the House Education and Public Works Committee, where he worked with committee Chairwoman Merita Allison to put together an education reform bill.

Even after his cancer diagnosis in March, Young still got a family member to drive him to Columbia so he could do his work at the State House, Tom Young said.

In Young’s honor, flags at the State House will be lowered to half-staff on the day of his funeral, McMaster tweeted.

Tributes and condolences from Young’s State House colleagues began appearing on Twitter Sunday morning.

In addition to his passion for public service, Taylor said Young also loved baking and was “a master” at making sweet treats that he shared with friends and colleagues in county government and at the State House.

Just days before his death, Young, lying in a hospital bed in his Aiken County home, was honored by Speaker Jay Lucas with the Order of the Palmetto — the state’s highest honor.

Killian, who was at Young’s home for the presentation, said there were “very few dry eyes in the room.”

“I don’t know that I could put it into words,” he said of Young’s reaction. “I could tell it touched him. It touched the entire room.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.