Lee Bandy, the influential political journalist who defined the landscape of South Carolina politics for four decades, was remembered Saturday as a man of deep Christian faith who relished nothing better than a good story and the love and company of his family and friends.
“I always had a feeling he was going to have a lot of adventures,” his nephew Greg Bandy said in an eloquent, endearing eulogy at a morning memorial service. “He was just the best kind of uncle you could have as a little boy, because he liked shooting guns, singing crazy songs and lighting large fireworks as much as I did.”
Several hundred mourners gathered in the beautiful old First Presbyterian Church in downtown Columbia to remember Bandy, “the life of the party” whose easy charm and stellar political relationships made him a formidable force over his 40-year career at The State newspaper.
Bandy died Monday at the age of 78 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, which ravaged his body in his final years but never seemed to diminish his spirit.
“A giant has fallen,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who said he felt compelled to come to Columbia out of deep respect for Bandy. “I respected him for being a voice people listened to because he had integrity.”
Others Bandy had covered in his career from 1966-2006 also gathered at the historic, Gothic-style church. Among them were former Gov. Mark Sanford; former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster; Iris Campbell, the widow of the late Gov. Carroll Campbell, and her son Michael Campbell; state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland; former U.S. Senate candidate Inez Tenenbaum, who chairs the U.S. Consumer Products and Safety Commission; S.C. commerce secretary Bobby Hitt; and U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Robert H. “Bob” Hodges Jr., as well as political operatives on both sides of the political aisle.
Dozens of journalists who called Bandy their friend came to pay their respects, too. And earlier in the week, Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime Washington colleague and friend, telephoned the Bandy home to offer condolences to Mary Bandy and their three grown children and three grandchildren.
Bandy spent 20 years as the newspaper’s Washington columnist and another two decades in Columbia, earning a reputation as a Washington insider and dean of the South Carolina press corps. On Saturday, his pastors, family and friends remembered the personal side of the man.
In his homily, the Rev. Mark E. Ross, a former First Presbyterian pastor and a family friend, said Bandy lived in a complex life “where there were often two ways standing in conflict with one another.”
“He lived and he wrote in the rough and tumble of life,” where Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives grapple for power, said Ross, now a professor of systematic theology at Erskine Theological Seminary.
Bandy could have grown cynical about those political clashes, just as he could have fallen into despair over the physical infirmities and pain brought on by Parkinson’s disease, Ross said.
But Ross said Bandy was like the man of Psalm 1 whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” even in the lowest times of life. Ross said Bandy’s grown children recalled their father’s daily commitment to prayer and Bible reading, a habit formed in early childhood as the son of a minister.
Bandy took solace in music and on Saturday, his friend and retired University of South Carolina organ professor William H. Bates presented stirring prelude music and a recessional, the Toccata in F Major, that was a Bandy favorite. Bandy’s nephew, Tim Bandy, played the piano for soloist Daniel Cole, First Presbyterian’s director of music ministry.
“In him, what did we have but faith, hope and love to the bitter end,” Ross said. “When he could not be the life of the party, he communed with God.”
He was born Leland Allen Bandy on June 5, 1935, in Asheville, N.C., to the late Julian A. Bandy and Eunice Bascom Bandy. He spent his early years in Asheville, where his father was pastor of Gospel Tabernacle in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. When his father accepted a call to a New York church, they moved to New York City. Later they moved to Toccoa Falls, Ga., where his father was president of Toccoa Falls Institute, a private evangelical Bible college.
After graduation from Bob Jones University, Bandy served three years in the Army in Alaska, where he employed his mellow, resonant voice in radio and television productions and hosted a weekend jazz program.
In his eulogy, Greg Bandy recalled his uncle returning from Army service armed with 35mm color slides, not only of incredible Alaskan scenery but of John F. Kennedy’s campaign stop in Alaska in September 1960.
“Somebody asked why in the world Kennedy would go all the way up to Alaska first,” Greg Bandy, a professor at Asbury University in Kentucky, recounted. Foreshadowing his future political acumen, Lee Bandy explained that Alaska’s slogan as “The Last Frontier” was akin to Kennedy’s campaign call for a “New Frontier.”
Bandy embarked on his journalistic career working for the Sims New Bureau and the Van de Linden Bureau before joining The State newspaper in 1966. From then on, Bandy became the leading expert on political issues and personalities that defined South Carolina.
He reported on some of the most colorful political figures of the time, including retired Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond and the late Lee Atwater, the South Carolina GOP operative who was an expert at attack politics. After attending his first national political convention in 1964, Bandy was a fixture at the quadrennial presidential nominating conventions and regularly appeared on national television to explain South Carolina politics.
Surrounded by political elites, Bandy never wrote as if they were his primary audience. Instead, he would strive to keep his readers in mind – the lawyer and teacher, farmer and factory worker who picked up the Sunday paper and looked to his column to untangle the complexities of Washington. He covered his share of political scandals and relished comeuppance for those who deserved it, but Bandy never reveled in people’s misfortunes.
“He knew that human beings are made in the image of an almighty God who loves us extravagantly and therefore we each have a fundamental, intrinsic value,” Greg Bandy said Saturday. “Lee knew that his purpose in life wasn’t all about what was in it for him. The whole essence of his personal faith was exemplified in him loving God and loving people.”
Prior to the 10:30 a.m. memorial service, the family held a private burial service in the churchyard. Bandy’s son-in-law, Lt. Col. Jeff Monte, presented Mary Bandy with an American flag on behalf of the president.