ROCK HILL, SC — Former state Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence of Rock Hill, only the second black woman ever elected to the South Carolina General Assembly, died late Tuesday, according to her daughter and the coroner’s office. Moody-Lawrence was 71.
Moody-Lawrence, a retired Winthrop education professor and former teacher, represented Rock Hill’s District 49 as a Democrat in the S.C. House for 14 years before opting to not run for re-election in 2007.
She spent much of that year battling breast cancer, but she said at the time that was not her reason for retiring from the Legislature.
During her bout with cancer, Moody-Lawrence said she found encouragement "from every nook and corner" in Rock Hill. "It just kept me going," she said. "It meant everything to me."
Known as “The Velvet Hammer” for her quiet but firm methods of fighting for children, education, and equal rights for all people.
Moody-Lawrence’s daughter, Leah Moody, a lawyer and University of South Carolina trustee, said her mother had been diagnosed with brain cancer and recently came home.
“She was peaceful, not in pain, and right to the end she cared about her family and others before herself,” Leah Moody said. “Right to the end she would not complain, saying what she said so often when problems needed solutions: ‘Are you going to cry about it, or are you going to do something about it.’ ”
Moody-Lawrence was a quiet legislator whose behind-the-scenes action and toughness when challenged earned her the nickname, “The Velvet Hammer.”
Her daughter said her mother exuded that quiet toughness right to the end of her life.
Fellow legislators also described Moody-Lawrence as a woman quiet until challenged, after which, “people knew that the Velvet hammer was a name that fit,” said Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, who was seat-mates for a decade with Moody-Lawrence.
“A great, great lady,” Simrill said. “She cared for her constituents, but more, she cared for all people.”
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.