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Abbeville state senator dies at 77

Billy O'Dell
Billy O'Dell

State Sen. Billy O’Dell, R-Abbeville, died Thursday at 77.

Greenwood County Coroner Sonny Cox said his office responded a little before 11 a.m. to the lawmaker’s home, where he was pronounced dead. Cox said the cause of death is thought to be related to a heart condition.

Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, called for a moment of silence in announcing O’Dell’s death at a State House meeting.

“When I think of Sen. O'Dell, I think of his support for The Citadel and his great love of South Carolina,” Peeler said later. “He brought a calmness to the Senate. He was very reasoned. He didn’t talk much, but when he did, we listened.”

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, called O'Dell an “exceptional man.”

“He was a consensus builder and reached across party lines,” Leatherman said. “The Senate will sorely miss his voice and his leadership.”

O'Dell graduated from The Citadel in 1960 and was CEO of the O'Dell Corp., a mop, broom and dust-mop manufacturing company started by his father. O’Dell, a Citadel graduate, was a member of the Senate for 26 years and chaired its General Committee. He also sat on the Senate’s budget-writing panel.

Gov. Nikki Haley said of O’Dell, “He made South Carolina a better place.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, said O’Dell was “a passionate public servant who cared deeply about our state and its people.”

O’Dell had been vice chairman of the Ware Shoals School District 51, president of the Ware Shoals Chamber of Commerce, adirector of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and president of the Ware Shoals Community Foundation.

O’Dell received legislative awards from the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, S.C. Counseling Association, S.C. Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, S.C. Dental Association, S.C. Emergency Medical Services Association and S.C. Economic Developers' Association.

O'Dell’s death is the second in the 46-member Senate chamber in seven months. Last June, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, was among nine parishioners shot to death during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

The Associated Press and Andrew Shain contributed

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