COLUMBIA, SC — Alfred H. “Freddy” Vang, the politically skilled and colorful former director of the state Water Resources Commission, died Wednesday after a four-year bout with cancer.
He was 67.
Vang spent three decades in state government, first as a planner in 1975 and later as a geographer before becoming chief executive at the water resources agency in 1983.
Co-workers and friends called him a visionary who helped develop a state water plan and who had the foresight to acknowledge the threat of climate change long before many of his counterparts.
At the Water Resources Commission, Vang was instrumental in studying the state’s increasingly threatened groundwater resources as development and farming began to draw down on aquifers.
But more than anything, friends say Vang made an impression on people. Stocky and mustachioed, the smooth-talking Vang could be a great friend — or formidable foe, friends said.
“In state government, I’d say he was not very well-liked by other agency directors, but they were short-sighted,’’ said John Mark Dean, a retired University of South Carolina marine scientist who knew Vang for years. “He was so far ahead of any other state agency director that they felt threatened all the time.
“And he didn’t care.’’
Dean said Vang, a longtime Columbia resident who retired in 2007, also knew how to win over a crowd. After the Water Resources Commission became part of the state Department of Natural Resources, Vang relied on an advisory board of scientists and experts to help him with issues that would later go to the DNR board.
“He was very, very adept politically,’’ Dean said. “He had a long-range view. I thought that was very important for somebody in his role.’’
Hank Stallworth, who worked with Vang for parts of 30 years at the Water Resources Commission, said Vang had “extreme loyalty’’ to people he cared about, a good sense of humor and ample political skills. But Vang also was “one of the most intellectually curious people I’ve ever met,’’ Stallworth said.
“Freddy was one of those old-time government people who actually believed the government could do good things, and there were some things the government could do that the private sector didn’t do very well,’’ Stallworth said. “That’s a little out of touch with the way the world works now, but that’s the way Freddy was.’’
Vang ran into his share of controversies during the years, among them allegations that he had hired politically connected friends to work at the Water Resources Commission. In 1993, the Water Resources Commission awarded two consulting contracts to friends without seeking bids from other companies.
Vang also became Water Resources Commission director amid questions. Then-Sen. James Waddell, D-Beaufort, was accused of helping Vang get the job over the commission’s deputy director.
As a teenager, Vang was educated at schools in Kent, England, and Montreux, Switzerland, before entering the University of South Carolina in 1966, according to his resume.
He received a degree in geography in 1971 and a graduate degree in 1974. As a planner with the old state wildlife department in the mid 1970s, Vang helped put together a coastal zone management plan for South Carolina in advance of the state’s modern coastal development laws.
Vang is survived by his wife, Leslie, and two grown sons. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Thursday.