In 1999, at the age of 77, Winston Searles decided that he would step down after five consecutive terms on the Rock Hill City Council and enjoy his retirement. The only problem was, his constituents wouldn't let him do it.
Searles was drawn back into the race at the urging of friends and neighbors.
"I have asked them all these years to support me," he said at the time. "Now I am obligated to support them."
That no doubt disappointed the four opponents who had entered the race when Searles announced he was giving up his Ward 1 seat on the council. But he won re-election despite the competition.
He never did retire. He easily could have chosen not to seek re-election in 2003 after 24 years of dedicated service, but once again, his constituents convinced him to run. Searles won his seventh four-year term at the age of 81 and continued to serve until his death Monday.
Despite his long service on the council, he ran again because there was unfinished business to take care of. In particular, he wanted to tend to the cleanup of the old Arcade Mill, which was gutted by fire in 1997 and had turned into an eyesore and health hazard for the Hagins-Fewell neighborhood in his district. Finally, in 2006, the site was cleaned up and revitalization of the decaying neighborhood began.
Searles also was interested in overall downtown renovation, including redevelopment of the Textile Corridor. But he often preferred to work quietly behind the scenes, serving the interests of his district along with those of the city as a whole.
Searles was a highly visible figure in the community, attending neighborhood meetings, public functions and many other events. He had a keen sense of the pulse of the community. And, as City Manager Carey Smith noted, no one was a better ambassador for the city.
Searles was a pioneer, becoming one of the first two blacks to serve on the council after districts were redrawn in 1978 to create three wards with large African-American populations. He also was district executive of the local Boy Scouts chapter for 17 years and an active member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
Searles was an optimist, a determined advocate for whatever cause he chose to embrace and someone who dedicated three decades of his life to public service. His experience, his good judgment and his love of Rock Hill will be missed.
Winston Searles, councilman for 28 years, was dedicated to serving constituents.
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