Ray Gardner was a meticulous man of order who ranked his walk with Jesus as the most important part of his life, followed closely by his family.
Third on the list was the burning desire to make Lancaster County a better place for all its citizens.
A three-term Lancaster County Council member, Gardner died Sunday, July 31, following a long and debilitating battle with Parkinson’s disease. Gardner was 79.
“What an enthusiastic and optimistic person Ray was about the future of Lancaster,” said former Gov. Jim Hodges. “He took a real interest in the things that were going on all over the county. I’m just so sorry to hear about this.”
Born and raised in the Flat Creek community, Gardner graduated from Flat Creek High School in the late 1950s. He then studied church music at Wingate University for a short time before going to work at Springs Industries.
He and his childhood sweetheart, Pauline Byrd Gardner, married in 1964.
Gardner then went to work at the DuPont Plant in Camden and was there for 27 years. He also sold insurance for Kanawha.
A lifelong University of South Carolina fan, Gardner entered the public arena in the early 1990s and was elected to County Council. Gardner served as council chair for eight of the 12 years he was in office.
Former councilwoman and council chair Polly Jackson called Gardner a strong, no-nonsense, focused leader who cared more about results than political grandstanding.
“Ray didn’t care who it was. He wanted to do what was right,” Jackson said. “So often, we have people in positions where they just want to be seen and he was not like that. He was always the one who wanted to the right thing.”
Jackson said Gardner also understood the importance of listening more than talking.
“You’ve gotta do that. You can’t just make things happen because you want them to happen. You have to listen to each other and decide what’s best for everybody,” she said.
Gardner also served as the assistant director and director of the former Lancaster County Economic Development until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Gardner’s love of sacred music led to a bi-vocational career for 35 years. He served as music director at Flat Creek Baptist, Pleasant Dale Baptist, Oakhurst Baptist and Buffalo Baptist churches. Gardner was also a former music director of the Kershaw County Baptist Association for seven years and led gospel choir concerts numerous times in the Myrtle Beach area. Most recently, he attended Second Baptist Church and was active in the music ministry there until his health deteriorated.
“He was a church man and did so much for his church,” Jackson said, in noting that her family and the Gardners ate lunch together just about every Sunday.
While he was still physically able, Gardner served in leadership positions for local and state Parkinson’s disease associations that advocated for Parkinson’s research and funding.
Jackson noted that Gardner never shirked, even as his health got gradually worse.
“I think that had a lot to do with his faith, that he didn’t run from it,” Jackson said.
Gardner is survived by his wife and two children, along with five grandchildren. His funeral was Friday at Second Baptist Church in Lancaster.
Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at 803-339-6869.