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Former Rock Hill mayor Rhea's husband remembered for love of community, golf

James "Jimmy" Rhea Jr. was more than an avid sportsman, said his friends and family.

He was interested in the community and had a knack for remembering names. But most of all, he loved and supported his wife of 57 years, Betty Jo Dunlap Rhea, who was Rock Hill's mayor for 12 years.

"He was right behind her," said long-time friend, Charlie Cobb Jr. "He was real proud of her."

Rhea, 84, died Friday at his Rock Hill home. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. today at The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour.

A "people person," Rhea was an asset to his wife's 20 years in politics, said his son, James "Toy" Rhea III.

"Without him, Mother couldn't have done it," he said. "He did the grass-roots part of it."

Rhea attended Clemson University and was a World War II veteran, serving in the Pacific with the United States Army Air Corps. At one time, he owned Rhea Coal and Supply Co. and Rhea Warner Co. He also was involved in real estate.

An accomplished golfer, he was the first South Carolinian to win the North Carolina/South Carolina Junior Golf Association title in 1938. He won the Men's Championship at the Rock Hill Country Club seven times.

"He just loved to play golf," said Harry Goforth, who lost to Rhea during a club championship. "He was a fine fellow."

Father/son golf tournaments and Clemson football games were favorite activities, said Rhea's younger son, John, who added his father was patient on the course.

"There were a lot of wonderful times," he said.

Toy Rhea said his father would amaze people with his ability to recall shots made during golf tournaments. But his father's greatest lesson was to keep promises, he said.

"He said, 'Your word is your bond,'" Toy Rhea said. "That's a wonderful legacy -- to be counted on by your friends."

In addition to his wife and sons, he is survived by his daughter, Catherine Rhea Darby, and three grandchildren.

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