It’s difficult to walk through the town of Williston and not run into someone whose life was touched by Calvin Melton.
A firefighter for 35 years – 27 of which were spent as the town’s fire chief, Melton was also a member of the Barnwell County Council, the Williston School District 29 board of trustees, the Williston Rescue Squad, the Lions Club and a number of other organizations. He was also a founding member and former president of the Lower State Fireman’s Association.
On Wednesday, he died at his home at the age of 61 after a battle with cancer. He was laid to rest in the Williston Cemetery on Saturday with fireman’s honors.
The memories of Melton, though, run just as many as the people who knew him.
“He was ‘that guy’ – that guy you call,” said Nancy Brady-Wood, a teacher at Kelly Edward Elementary School in Williston. “There’s one in every community, and he’s the one in Williston. You know that he’s gonna get things done. If he can’t do it himself, he’s gonna point you in the right direction.”
Brady-Wood grew up in Williston and is now an educator in the same school system she went through as a student, teaching fourth grade along with Melton’s wife, Debbie.
“It’s the way his roles have been changing all through my life,” she said of Melton. “When I was younger, he was the fire chief and the guy everybody called in town. And then when I got to be a teacher, he was the guy on the school board that you called because you knew you could count on him to do whatever you needed him to do and hear you out. Now, he was my friend because of being so close to Debbie and the boys.”
Melton was currently serving on the school board when he died. Just last month, he was recognized for 10 years of service to the district and presented with a 10-year pin at the board’s monthly meeting.
Eavon Hickson, principal of Williston-Elko Middle School, said Melton cared deeply about the school system and its students and employees.
“He wanted to know if there was anything he could do to make things better,” she said. “He wanted to know how things were going, things that were set in motion. How were things working in the building? Was there anything the board needed to be aware of to make things better?”
Hickson said Melton spoke up not just for the students, but for everyone in the district. She recalled when he expressed concern about custodians being able to keep their jobs.
“You could rest assured that he was going to check on you in times of need, and to me, that was important,” she said.
Alison Brown, guidance counselor at Williston-Elko High School, recalled Melton not only cared for the students and teachers, but “he was always friendly.”
“It was never about him,” she said. “Even during his time of sickness, if you would say, ‘How are you?’ it wasn’t about him. He always wanted the attention to be on you. He was always concerned for others and never wanted the attention to be on him.”
Mayor Tommy Rivers said Melton leaves behind “a legacy of volunteerism.”
“Calvin volunteered for everything,” he said. “He was just Mr. Volunteer in Williston.”
Rivers recalled a humorous moment going with Melton and other Town officials to the Savannah River Site to pick up some surplus equipment. Melton had recently had open heart surgery and a nuclear stress test at the time, and the men had to go through a security checkpoint several times because the alarm kept going off.
“We go through and Calvin turns around and says, ‘Somebody’s setting that thing off and they need to quit,’ and it was him from the nuclear stress test,” Rivers recalled.
“His greatest contribution is the fire department … and bringing that department into the 21st century,” Rivers said. “He loved that fire department. We’re losing a legacy of volunteerism, and it’ll be a hard void to fill.”
Milton Widener, chief of the Williston Fire Department, fought fires with Melton for 35 years.
“He loved this department, he loved this equipment and most of all he loved his firefighters,” Widener said. “Just as the other things he was involved with in the community, he put 100 percent into it.”
Melton was instrumental in getting much of the department’s new equipment, and in getting the department’s lowest-ever Insurance Service Office rating, which lowers the cost of homeowner’s insurance in a community as the rating lowers.
Widener said one of the many things he learned from Melton was “how to treat your people.”
“When you’re dealing with a bunch of volunteers, it’s not like at work where you can threaten to fire somebody,” he said.
A father of two sons, Charles and John, Melton was also a family man.
“Calvin loved his boys tremendously,” Widener said. “He loved Debbie, and his dogs, especially JJ.”
On Saturday, Widener drove the fire department’s 1951 truck, which carried the casket containing Melton’s body, from First Baptist Church of Williston to the cemetery. Melton’s dog JJ rode in the front seat with him.
“He was a family man,” Widener said. “I think he’ll be remembered for all the avenues he’s walked through life.”
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