York County is not only losing a fountain of knowledge but also a passionate and compassionate advocate for the ill and the aging.
Friday was Tony Fountain’s last day as president and CEO of Westminster Towers retirement community in Rock Hill. He leaves to become the chief operating officer of Presbyterian Communities of South Carolina, which operates five retirement communities in the state.
Fountain served Westminster Towers for 12 years as its second president and CEO. He replaced Elaine Guyton.
He also served on the board of Hospice & Community Care of Rock Hill, most recently as its board chairman, and on the board of the York County Free Medical Clinic, where he too was once board chairman.
Statewide he is on the board of Leading Age South Carolina, which advocates for its not-for-profit senior care providers. He once chaired Leading Age’s board.
“His passion comes through in everything he does,” says Kathy Wilson, who succeeds Fountain as board chairman at Hospice & Community Care of Rock Hill.
Fountain said his passion comes from his Christian faith.
“You show compassion not because of who they are,” Fountain said of those he served, “but because of who you are. You deliver hope to people because of who you are.
“It keeps you humble, and it gives you purpose.”
It is Fountain’s faith that moves him from Rock Hill to Columbia. Fountain said he has been praying for his 78-year-old mother Dora who has advancing dementia. Fountain’s sister, Tina Reeves, has been her primary caregiver.
Fountain said he prayed for people to help his mother. Finally, Fountain said, God told him “to stop asking him to send others.” Fountain was considering the offer from Presbyterian Communities during those prayers.
The move to Columbia will put Fountain about a 90-minute drive from home. More importantly Presbyterian Communities has two retirement communities close to his mother. Visits to those facilities will allow Fountain to spend four to five nights a month with his mother.
Serving God and others has been part of Fountain’s life since childhood.
“His core values start with his faith,” said John Rinehart, of Rinehart Realty, who was on the search committee that picked Fountain to replace Guyton.
Fountain holds a theology degree from Charleston Southern University with a minor in effective speaking and sociology. He also holds a certificate in advanced leadership from Duke University.
The most basic of his values is, “God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.”
As a comforter, Fountain has sought out others who have similar missions to donate his time. That’s how he was led to the Hospice & Community Care of Rock Hill and Palmetto Volunteers in Medicine, the precursor of the York County Free Medical Clinic.
In each organization Fountain held a key strategic role. While he can offer comfort with a gentle hand and a tender smile, Fountain’s gift is as a strategic thinker and planner. Often nonprofits struggle to find people with such talents.
He helped Hospice & Community Care and the Free Medical Clinic look to the future. In both cases the future meant finding facilities to meet community needs.
He was on the hospice board when it built the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House, the area’s only free-standing hospice facility.
He was board chairman for the clinic when it moved from a storefront office on Herlong Avenue |to much larger offices on Oakland Avenue. The move allowed the clinic to serve more people and add services. It’s almost out of space at its Oakland Avenue location.
“He is the fountain of calm, common sense,” said Bob Thompson, who succeeded him as the board chairman of the free medical clinic. “He was always a person I could call and ask, ‘What do you think?’ He was unflappable.”
John Little, a board member at Westminster Towers, said Fountain is an effective leader who has the ability to size up the situation, find the solutions and work with people to get things done.
He also has, Little said, a self-deprecating humor and quick wit. When it came time to share his departure with Westminster Towers residents and friends, “he said goodbye not in a sad way, but on a happy note,” Little said.
Fountain’s goodbye was not a long series of speeches, but one delivered while seated in a dunking booth with residents and friends tossing softballs at him. More than once Fountain plunged into the water and came up smiling.
Fountain said he chose the dunking booth because “I didn’t want to be the center of attention. I wanted it to be a celebration of life.”
Early in his career Fountain was a youth pastor at a church in Aiken. He said he never had the calling be a church pastor, but admits he was called to a larger congregation, a congregation that needed someone to reach out, listen and help them. He hopes he has done that and will continue to serve them well.
In the days before he left, many people offered their thanks and words of encouragement on his new journey. But the most special, he said, were the simple words of one person who told him: “Mr. Fountain, you have been an agent of hope.”