Kinney receives state’s highest honor for humanitarian service

Nov 2, 2015

By Lynn McQueen
Reporter | Herald-Advocate, Bennettsville, SC

Friends from near and far gathered at The Skye convention facility Oct. 12 as South Carolina’s highest civilian honor was bestowed upon the Herald-Advocate’s own William Light “Bill” Kinney Jr.

South Carolina Rep. Patricia Henegan presented Kinney with the Order of the Palmetto on behalf of Gov. Nikki Haley, who was not able to attend but sent a letter in which she praised Kinney’s “uncommon commitment to excellence” in all of his endeavors.

Kinney is editor and publisher emeritus of the Herald-Advocate, with a 57-year career as a journalist. He is also a dedicated community leader with a lifetime of service at the local, state and national levels.

Henegan, who nominated Kinney for the award, said it is the highest honor for humanitarian service to the people of South Carolina and recognizes lifetime achievement.

She said she could think of no one more deserving than Kinney, who has made a mark not just on journalism, but on cultural arts, historic preservation and business development, as well.

A renowned philanthropist, he helped create and fund the Marian Wright Edelman Public Library, the Marlboro Civic Center and the Pee Dee Coalition’s emergency safe shelter for abused women and children. He has served as chairman or president of many boards, including the South Carolina Historical Society and South Carolina Archives and History Commission at the state level and the Library of Congress American Folklife Center at the national level.

Perhaps most importantly, Henegan said, “he leads by example and he leads from the heart.”

She read excerpts from some of the letters of recommendation that were written to the governor on Kinney’s behalf, and several special friends spoke briefly during Monday’s ceremony. First was Kinney’s cousin, John Light Napier, a Marlboro County native and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Napier said Kinney had many unique opportunities when he graduated from Wofford College more than 61 years ago, including interviewing for a Rhodes Scholarship, practicing medicine and studying abroad. Instead, he chose to come back to Bennettsville as a journalist, and for that, Napier said, “We are forever grateful.”

Calling Kinney one of the five most influential South Carolinians in private service, he said, “Over a lifetime of achievement, Bill Kinney has excelled for our state and her people.”

State Sen. Gerald Malloy spoke next, calling Kinney a friend to many and someone who always puts himself behind others. He urged everyone present to follow that example.

Former South Carolina Rep. Doug Jennings called him a “passionate ambassador” with a genuine love for Marlboro County. “Bill Kinney is, simply put, the heart and soul of Marlboro County,” he said. “I can’t think of any one individual who has done more and served his state and community more diligently.”

Bennettsville Mayor Heath Harpe read a proclamation on behalf of the city, recognizing Kinney for the award and for his many contributions.

Finally, Elisabeth Kinney McNiel paid tribute to her dad, saying, “I have always been blessed and grateful to have Bill Kinney as my father.”

In accepting the award, Kinney reflected on the things that have encouraged and driven him over the years: his parents and extended family; his wife of 52 years, Peggy; daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren; and the instruction he received in church and school that “a person’s talents should be used to help others.”

He said he has always taken to heart the idea of “Service Above Self,” the Rotary motto, and has tried to become involved in places he felt he could be useful. Quoting something he heard many years ago at a church in England, he concluded by saying:  “The only purpose of our creation is to praise and serve God, and we do this by serving others.”