Arthur Ravenel Jr. with some of his grandchildren at the Statehouse | Photos provided by Thomas Ravenel

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Former U.S. Congressman Arthur Ravenel Jr., a public servant for 60 years and namesake of the U.S. Highway 17 bridge over the Cooper River, died Jan. 16. His funeral is 2 p.m. Friday at French Huguenot Church, 136 Church St. These thoughts are offered by a son, Thomas, a businessman and South Carolina’s former state treasurer.

By Thomas Ravenel | My father derived a true joy and happiness through public service. Growing up, we’d always have to take the phone off the hook during dinnertime because people he represented — and even those he didn’t represent — called nonstop for help and he helped! 

Thomas Ravenel

He was never beholden to any party dogma. I’ve had many Democrats tell me he was the only Republican they ever supported because of his environmental positions. He was their “hero” and they’d recount the arguments he’d put up in support of their causes.

He was a man of moderation to the extreme! In 60 years, I never witnessed him drunk or over-indulgent at the dinner table. He was always to bed at 9 p.m. and up at 5:30 a.m. His weight never deviated from when he was released as a teenager from the Marines. 

I rarely ever saw him lose his composure and only one time did he completely lose it and that was upon hearing the news that my brother William, who has Downs Syndrome and was in a coma, had only a 40% chance of survival. Luckily, he survived. 

His humility knew no bounds. He’d never accept special treatment because of his status and never tried to look too good or act too smart. 

I remember my father once told me about going to a celebration of the Ravenel Bridge, held in his honor. He arrived at the event and attempted to park when the parking attendant said, “You can’t park here; it’s only for VIPs. Drive to the other side of the building and park.” I asked Dad what he did. He said he did what the man said and drove to the other side and parked as instructed, thinking it was funny. That’s humility!

Whenever he was flying to Washington, he’d always turn down free offers to move up to first class when there was a vacancy. “No thanks ya,” he’d say. “I’m fine back here.” 

A friend of mine who worked for him shared “that lobbyists always wanted to take him out for fancy lunches and suppers and he would politely decline and let the staff go instead. Some of my best days were those when I worked for your dad in the district or on the Hill. He was tough, but fair and always funny.”

He was a product of his times. He was quite thrifty. The Great Depression left him that way. If I didn’t get up to take a shower by 7 a.m., it would be a cold one because he would’ve already turned off the hot water heater.

I can hardly believe I can’t call up Dad as we talked quite a bit on the phone (until just a few days ago) and enjoy all the laughs and love. 

With all my recent troubles weighing down on me, I always felt better after those calls. He was never judgmental or if he was, it would be couched in a humorous way. Once, I called and asked if he would give me some personal advice. He responded, “No!” I incredulously inquired, “Why not?” Not one to pull punches, he replied, “Because you never take it!”

With [U.S. Sen.] Fritz Hollings’ passing a few years ago, Dad was the last true character left in South Carolina. I don’t see anyone left to pick up that torch.

Thomas Ravenel, a local businessman and early star of the Southern Charm television series, served as South Carolina’s treasurer in 2007.

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