Food & Drink

Owner of famed Lexington County barbecue restaurant dies

The owner of Jackie Hite’s Bar-b-que, known around the state for its old-fashioned barbecue made over real wood, died Tuesday.

James E. “Jackie” Hite, 76, died and “went to be with Jesus” Tuesday, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The Batesburg-Leesville restaurant, which has been operating for 45 years, had been giving updates about Hite’s health issues starting Sept. 9, which have garnered hundreds of shares and likes from friends and fans.

The Facebook page had been encouraging the use of the hashtag #prayforpoppy.

Lake High, author of “A History of South Carolina Barbeque” (2013), considered Hite a good friend and wrote of Hite’s legendary barbecue house in Leesville.

According to High’s book, Hite’s restaurant got started after Hite’s father Jack, a former fire chief in Leesville, began barbecueing hogs and selling the meat and hash as a fundraising event for the volunteer fire department in the late 1950s. The barbecue became so popular that the Hites began selling it on a regular basis from the family hardware store before moving to a “stand” and then a sit-down restaurant in the 1980s.

“Jackie Hite was a lot of fun, that’s all there is to it,” says High. “He was remarkably generous; many a time I had to sneak up to the cash register to pay for my stuff” because Hite would try to give it away.

On Hite’s passing, High said it is not necessarily the end, but “it’s sad to lose the old hands that did it right, the old fashioned way ... whole hog over coals. There’s a big difference between whole hog and butts only.

“Jackie Hite was (one of) the last in all of South Carolina to barbecue a whole hog over wood. He would start the pig on Thursday and lay it out on Friday for a pig picking at the restaurant,” says High. “And when I would go out for barbecue on my own, I would always choose Friday night for Jackie Hite’s pig picking.”

“Jackie was bigger than life,” says Jim Wiszowaty, owner of Wiz’s Eatery and a current councilman and former mayor of Batesburg-Leesville. “With Jackie Hite’s prowess and persuasiveness ... and the way he politicked for me in Leesville ... Everybody would listen to Jackie to see who he would vote for,” and had it not been for Hite, says Wiszowaty, he would not have gotten into politics.

“When I became mayor, I’d go to Jackie’s for Sunday brunch and every Sunday, Jackie would tell me what I was doing wrong. Occasionally, I got it right.”

Wiszowaty, Tommy Shealy, owner of Shealy’s Bar-B-Que, and others volunteered to cook the chickens every July 4 for Hite’s restaurant. “It was like a family affair,” says Wiszowaty. “Of course, Jackie would be out there yelling at us if we weren’t doing it right.”

The three restaurateurs often helped each other out in times of need. Wiszowaty recalls the time a transformer in front of Hite’s restaurant burned out and Shealy drove over with a refrigerated truck so that Hite wouldn’t lose any of his inventory.

Jay Hendrix, current Batesburg-Leesville fire chief, says “they don’t make them like Jackie anymore.”

Hendrix, a third-generation firefighter whose father worked as assistant chief alongside Hite when Hite was the chief at the Leesburg fire station, shows off memorabilia on the walls of the Leesburg station house. Photos of Hite as chief, as well as his white fire chief’s hat with the wide curved brim and embellished scroll – “a New York fire fighter’s design,” says Hendrix – hang in the common area. Hite joined the fire department in 1961 and was chief from 1967-76.

Hite was one of several retired volunteer firefighters who sat down with Hendrix at a storytellers event last November to share what it was like working as a firefighter in the 1950s and ’60s.

In the bay behind the station sits the restored 1946 Chevrolet fire truck that will take Hite on his last ride around Leesville on Friday. Four firefighters acting as pallbearers will ride in the fire truck with Hite’s casket as it makes its way along a route from Town Hall to the fire station, passing Hite’s restaurant on the way to Wittenberg Cemetery in Leesville. The siren will be sounded for final call.

The S.C. House passed a resolution in 2015 to express appreciation for Hite’s “significant contributions to his community and to our state and nation.” “... (T)he South Carolina House of Representatives is grateful for Jackie Hite’s rich legacy in the Palmetto State, and the members salute him for providing the culture of traditional cuisine that has brought pride and recognition to our state,” the resolution stated.

Hite previously served as mayor of Leesville for five years and served on the Leesville City Council for eight years, the resolution stated. He also served as commissioner of the Leesville Public Works Commission for two years and served as chief of the Leesville Fire and Rescue Department for 10 years. He also previously served as the president of the Lexington County Fire Chiefs Association and served in the S.C. National Guard.

Jackie Hite’s Bar-b-que was featured in the March 2015 issue of Southern Living as one of the “10 must-visit Carolina barbecue joints.” The restaurant had also been featured nationally by The Food Network, Garden & Gun magazine and The History Channel, among others.

Hite was also inducted into the first class of the Batesburg-Leesville High Hall of Fame in 2009, according to The State newspaper archives.

Hite played football for three years and led the 1958 team to the Lower State Championship with an 11-1-1 record. He later played football at Wingate College.

Hite is survived by his wife of more than 53 years, Mickey Hutto Hite of Pelion; his four daughters, Kim (Chad Sanders) of Batesburg-Leesville, Jackie (Monty Shealy) of Mount Pleasant, Rebecca Hite of Batesburg-Leesville and Sue (Pete Futia) of Waxhaw, North Carolina; six grandchildren, Samantha Shealy, Nicholas Futia, Alexandria Futia, Jacob Futia, Sydney Sanders, and Andrew Sanders. Also surviving are his siblings, Linda Danielsen of Gilbert and Essie Steele of Batesburg-Leesville. He was predeceased by a brother, Lester Hite of Batesburg-Leesville.

Visitation is planned for 5-7 p.m. Thursday at Barr-Price Funeral Home in Leesville. A graveside service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 23 at Wittenberg Cemetery in Leesville.

Jane Moon Dail contributed.

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