CLEARWATER — The tears flowed, but there also were some chuckles and peals of laughter when S.C. Rep. Ronnie Young, R-Clearwater, received the Order of the Palmetto during an emotional ceremony Friday afternoon at his home on Deerwood Drive.
S.C. Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, who is the Speaker of the House, presented the state’s highest civilian honor to Young on behalf of Gov. Henry McMaster, whose signature is on the framed certificate.
“I talked to the governor on the way down here today, and he read all the letters and all the endorsements,” Lucas said. “He told me that it was the easiest decision that he ever had to make in his life to award Ronnie Young the Order of the Palmetto.”
The honor recognizes a person’s lifetime achievements and contributions to South Carolina and its residents.
The ceremony took place in Young’s living room while he was lying in a hospital-style bed surrounded by friends, family, fellow elected officials in addition to Lucas and Aiken County government staff members.
Young, who is on hospice care, has pancreatic cancer and liver cancer in addition to other health issues.
“Oh yes, I’m very happy,” said Young of being an Order of the Palmetto recipient. “It’s prestigious.”
Young is the longest serving Aiken County Council chairman in history. His tenure began in 1994 and continued until 2017.
In May of that year, Young won a special election for the S.C. House of Representatives’ District 84 seat following Chris Corley’s resignation and was sworn in early the next month.
In 2018, Young was re-elected.
“I know him as one of my favorite representatives in the South Carolina House,” Lucas said. “You know, we have a lot of folks that come and serve with us who are there 20 years and don’t do a lot. Then we have individuals like Ronnie. Even though his time with us has been short, Ronnie has made a tremendous impact in the South Carolina House of Representatives and on the people of this entire state.”
Young is the vice chairman of the House’s Education and Public Works Committee.
“This year, he asked me what the most important thing was that we were going to do because he wanted to be part of that,” Lucas said. “I told him, ‘Ronnie, it’s education reform,’ and he said, ‘That is where I want to be.’ He worked hand in hand with Rita Allison (a Republican S.C. Representative from the Spartanburg area) to craft an education reform bill. And Ronnie, you did an outstanding job. Thank you for your tireless work.”
Lucas also mentioned Young’s agreeable personality.
“Ronnie Young is uplifting for the South Carolina House,” Lucas said. “He makes us all feel better.”
S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, praised Young for his efforts at both the local and state levels.
“Aiken County has never had a better friend than Ronnie Young,” Tom Young said. “South Carolina has never had a better friend than Ronnie Young. You have done more for this county in the last 30 years than any living person, and we just want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We love you so much.”
After Tom Young’s tribute, Ronnie Young said, “I wish I had done more.”
Later, the former County Council chairman talked about the input of others and its importance in his success locally as a politician.
“Somebody has to drive the ship,” he said, “but I’ve had a lot of great friends along the way that helped me.”
Young’s wife, Susan, used a tissue to dry her eyes during the ceremony, and many of those who crowded into the living room wept as well.
But she indicated that her husband’s reaction to his visitors was heartwarming to watch.
“You see how he lights up when he sees someone,” Susan said. “He loves people, and they love him. He’s a real trouper.”
After the Order of the Palmetto’s solemn presentation, there were moments of humor during the rest of the proceedings.
S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, spoke about Ronnie Young’s talents for making and sharing “the best dang” sweet treats, including brownies and banana pudding.
“We all gained weight when he came to the House,” Taylor said.
Young’s good friend, Leighton McLendon of Aiken, praised his pal’s pimento cheese, saying it was better than the version of the famous sandwiches that are sold at the Master’s.
Then, becoming more serious, McLendon told Young, “Dear friend of mine, you are the best.”
There were loud guffaws when Young declared, “You owe me!”
Then County Council Vice Chairman Andrew Siders asked everyone to place their hands on Young and pray.
“We pray Lord for a special blessing on Ronnie,” Siders said. “We pray that you will give him strength. And Lord, if it is your will, heal his body. We pray Lord that you would keep smile on his face and a song in his heart. We thank you Lord for what he’s meant in our lives and the lives of so many people in this county.”
Young’s visitors Friday also included S.C. Rep. Bart Blackwell, R-Aiken; S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken; S.C. Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta; and S.C. Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, who is the Senate Majority Leader.
In addition, among those present were Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon, County Council Chairman Gary Bunker and County Administrator Clay Killian.