Described as “a big man” in stature and integrity, Will McCain, 60, of Gilbert, the chief of staff under former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, died Saturday.
The cause of death was melanoma.
Reached at his home in Society Hill, Beasley said McCain’s wife called him with the news while he was traveling.
“Will was probably the smartest and funniest guy I ever knew,” Beasley said. “We both came from having years of experience in the House and we knew the system very well. He was a force in accomplishing every major initiative we had success with.
“I chose him not only because of his conservatism but his ability to think outside the box. He also had a great ability to organize and execute an agenda with great discipline.”
A Mobile, Ala., native, McCain’s family moved to Orangeburg, his mother’s hometown, when he was 10. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1975.
He served in public office as an Orangeburg city councilman from 1981-86 and as a state representative from Orangeburg County from 1986-92,. McCain was also a legislative lobbyist on former Gov. Carroll Campbell’s staff.
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, began working with McCain as chief of staff. Cobb-Hunter said she worked with McCain, an active lobbyist, “on a regular basis” right through the 2013 legislative session.
McCain was a partner in the consulting firm of Kelly, McCain & Smith.
“He had a dry sense of humor,” Cobb-Hunter said. “As usual, he exhibited that during the last conversation I had with him.
“You could look at him and tell he was having some health challenges then but he didn’t want anything to detract from what he was doing. He was a survivor.”
McCain’s reputation was that of a businesslike, straightforward individual with legislators and state agency heads alike. Beasley said while he exhibited the softer side of the duo, McCain could be intimidating.
“He knew every agency budget and knew how the money was getting moved around,” Beasley said. “When they told him they couldn’t make any cuts, he would call them on the carpet and get them in line.
“He also knew how to bring them together when it was needed and had enough savvy and strength to see it through.
“(McCain) mellowed out over the last few years of his life,” Beasley said. “I’ve talked to a number of people who have said he would call and almost ask forgiveness if they felt he had dealt with them too harshly.”
McCain’s political strength appeared to be his sense of ethics. Cobb-Hunter said McCain’s word was his bond.
“His concern was always for South Carolina,” Cobb-Hunter said. “We are better off as a state because of his public service.
“Current legislators could learn a thing or two from McCain about how to be a statesman.”
Funeral services after a private burial are planned for 1 p.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia.
Caughman-Harman Funeral Home of Lexington is handling the arrangements.