Garry Smith recognized for years of public service

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August 15, 2022 by Shirley Adams - Views: 84

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Garry Smith recognized for years of public service

Representative Garry Smith addressing the
South Carolina House with the
Mace of the S.C. House of Representative
in the background. The Mace is the
oldest legislative emblem in the United States

As he approaches the last days of his term in the South Carolina House, Garry Smith shares some bittersweet memories of his time there, of a career in public administration spanning some forty years, and of a life well-lived.

Garry was born in Aiken, South Carolina on March 4, 1957, to J. Roland and Peggy Cato Smith. His family growing up included one brother named Todd and a sister named Caroline. Garry’s father, a minister and postal worker by trade, also served as a South Carolina State House Representative from District 84 (Aiken) for twenty-four years.

In 1979, Garry married Brenda L. Harman, who became a teacher in the Greenville County School District for thirty-three years. They had two children—Michael Grady and Dana Michelle. Garry also received his B.A. from the University of South Carolina—Aiken in 1979 and went on to graduate with M.P.A. from the University of South Carolina in 1983.

Garry’s education and interests prepared him for a business career. He started out as managing partner of Nin Tai Enterprises and then became Vice President of Burkhold Smith Planning & Management. Garry first met the consultant Mike Burkhold at a convention in Columbia when he dropped by Mike’s booth and picked up a koozie. They chatted, and that was the start of a lengthy career together.

Father was an Inspiration

Garry says that he was an unusual kid who liked to write letters to elected officials from an early age. His father’s career provided him with an inside view of government service, and he would help his father on the campaign trail and hang out for political discussions. In addition to his many years as a representative, Garry’s father served for six years on the Aiken County School Board and then on the Beech Island Water and Sewer Commission. Garry saw things firsthand and came to realize that policies could make a real difference in the world. His life came to revolve around politics and government. His own government career began in the Planning and Development Department of Aiken. Then, he held the position of Administrator for Bamberg County from 1988 to 1992, followed by Simpsonville City Administrator from 1992-2003.

Elected to the House

By then, Garry and Brenda had made their home in the Hunter Woods Subdivision of Simpsonville, part of District 27 which includes most of Golden Strip, Mauldin, and Simpsonville. So, when Governor Sanford appointed Michael Easterday, Representative to South Carolina House for District 27, to a liaison position, Michael resigned, and Garry ran for Representative of District 27 in a special election held May 20, 2003.

One of Garry’s most vivid memories involves his swearing-in ceremony in the South Carolina House. Usually, all the new representatives are sworn in as a large group. Because Garry won a special election, the ceremony involved only him, surrounded by family and friends which made the event extraordinary and special for him.

Garry recalls several mentors in his early days at the South Carolina House. Garry and his father served there together for ten years. In South Carolina history, there were only two other times where a father and son served together in the South Carolina House. Besides his father, Garry recalls two other mentors. He would take walks at 6 am with David Wilkens, the Speaker of the House. These walks provided a wonderful time to know David better and chat over issues. When Thursday session ended, he and Bob Leach would go to a restaurant in Newberry and have lunch on the way home. Garry treasures the time that they would just sit and talk things over.

Served on Special Committee's

Three events highlighted Garry’s time as representative. First, Garry served on an impeachment committee that investigated then Governor Mark Sanford’s disappearance for a few days in 2009. Second, the shooting at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church in June 2015 claimed nine lives including that of their 41-year-old pastor and South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney. Garry recalls the grief and shock during the aftermath. He says that the forgiveness and grace that flowed from that church, its members, and the community spoke a tremendous message to the rest of the world as to how such terrible tragedies should be handled. To be able to do that in the midst of such hurt and loss reflected the faith, the morals, the values woven into the fabric of their makeup. Third, he recalls Governor Nikki Haley signing legislation to remove the confederate flag from the South Carolina House grounds just a few weeks later. The action came after a long debate, and Garry says that he had friends on both sides of that emotional issue.

Thomas Jefferson Awards for Legislator of the Year 

Personally, Garry fondly recalls the receipt of two Thomas Jefferson awards for Legislator of the Year. One was for his work on protecting data privacy and the other for his service with the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC as State Chair. Being chairman of the Operation and Management Committee since 2011 for eleven years also stands out for him. Finally, Jennifer Pinckney, wife of Clementa Pinckney, presented Garry with an award in her husband’s honor in 2016 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Garry had secured tax exemptions to build non-profit houses for the needy, and this special recognition for those efforts touched him.

The Smith Family

L/R Back Row; Grayson Haase(2) Dana Smith Haase(daughter), 
Caelen Smith(1),  Michael Smith (Son), J. Roland Smith (Father), 
Brenda Smith (Wife), Garry Smith, Kenton Haase(16).

Front row; Addison Haase (7), Claire Smith (5), Catherine Smith (8), 
Mason Haase (9), Peggy Smith (Mother).

Garry laughingly reflects that he may be remembered most for how long he talked! But he hopes his true legacy is that he was enthusiastic without being offensive. Garry says, “It’s always tough to have passion and compassion without being personal or offensive to those of differing opinions.” One of Garry’s major accomplishments during his tenure was to sponsor a bill in 2011 that created a Department of Administration in South Carolina. It took many years and a lot of work to get that bill passed. Eventually though, this piece legislation spurred a major reorganization in the way South Carolina executive branch functioned.

As Garry prepares to leave, he feels good about the right to life issue because there is some final say in the South Carolina House. There is some model legislation on technology issues but someone else will have to move that one forward because time is running out. His biggest disappointment lies with the Education Savings Account legislation that he sponsored. This would have created scholarships for those stuck in public school situations not meeting the child’s needs. This legislation went to the State Senate where it is not being considered at the moment. Time will run out and the bill will die if the State Senate does not act.

Garry says that it takes a lot of time and patience to pass a bill. He declares that it can be discouraging and sometimes you have to let another person get the credit. Only one out of every fifteen proposed bills get passed. He says, “It’s easier to kill a bill than to pass one!” For the new members that follow him, he warns that there will be huge learning curve, and that you have to know the right people to get things done. Garry says that it is tough sitting in the seat and making decisions for yourself. He feels that having his father and other mentors in his early years made a real difference for him.

Garry says that people always think that division is the problem in today’s politics. Yet he feels that on the state and local levels that is not much of a problem. By the time a piece of legislation gets to the floor, it often gets a unanimous vote because the major problems have already been worked out. Nationally, the system works differently because the structure is fragmented from the get-go. Each committee has two different staffs, one from each party, so partisanship is built right into the system. Garry feels that sometimes people only read and hear about the emotional issues where tempers flare, but they are not made aware of the many times when things work smoothly.

Community Involvement

Garry believes in volunteerism and has held leadership roles in varied management and public service organizations too numerous to mention in this article. Of note, Garry has served as President of the Simpsonville Rotary Club and the Simpsonville United Methodist Men’s Ministry. He and his family are active members of the Simpsonville United Methodist Church. In addition, Garry teaches as an Affiliated Professor at North Greenville University. This program allows people to share real-life experiences in various careers. Because Garry has served on an impeachment committee, he talks about the steps that were taken in that process, reviewing the constitution and how it is applied.

With such a busy schedule, one wonders when Garry has the chance to relax. He says that though he is remarkably busy, he has enjoyed it all because you do not mind doing what you genuinely enjoy. Gary declares that he has been blessed throughout his career with leadership and its challenges. Even when asked what media he consumes, Garry talks politics and deep ideas about government. His favorite book, “America’s Revolutionary Mind” by C. Bradley Thompson deals with the mindset of the culture during this great period of American history. For television viewing, he consumes the news and documentaries as well as whatever programs his wife wants to see. And his favorite movie? That would be “The Patriot!” 


Garry and Brenda Smith

Garry is intrigued with the idea of our culture and where it is right now as well as what we can do to fix that. He feels that there are declining values and morals in our society and relies heavily on the Bible, the writings of C.S. Lewis, and Aristotle for understanding. He is convinced that training will not solve the problem because it involves the heart. Garry states that the one hundred twenty-four people in the South Carolina House pass laws to control these burgeoning problems, but laws affect everyone. With every law, you run the risk of losing some freedom so great care is needed.

For the last two years, Garry has been contemplating retiring from the South Carolina House. Quite simply, he wants to spend more time with his beloved family some of whom have health concerns. His busy schedule would not allow him to be there, to support those whom he loves. In the meantime, Garry prepares to teach his last class at North Greenville beginning August 17, 2022. 

Like President John Adams, Rep.Garry Smith plans to retire to a farm

When his term expires in January 2023, Garry and Brenda plan to move from Simpsonville where they have resided for some thirty years to Aiken. There, they will live on a farm she inherited from her mother. That farm holds great memories for both of them. Brenda lived there for many years while they dated, and Garry spent considerable time there during his college years. A one hundred fifty-year-old house has been moved to that property, and it will take quite a while for them to repair, remodel, and refurbish this dwelling. And if Garry can squeeze out some spare time, he may go hunting or fishing or practice martial arts. He also possesses a sixth-degree black belt!

But rest assured, Garry Smith’s mind will not stray far from politics and government service. It is an integral part of who he is. He declares, “My career has been much more than the Legislature. It’s been forty years of service in the local government area since 1983.” Garry considers himself “blessed and honored” to have had these varied opportunities to serve the people of this community and state. The editor and staff of 

Editor's note: “The Simpsonville Sentinel” wishes to thank Garry  for being willing to serve in such a resolute and caring fashion.■



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