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Remembering John Rainey

March 18, 2015   By Willard Strong in Santee Cooper History

The major printed news outlets in the state noted the March 14 passing of John Stringer Rainey, who served as chairman of the Santee Cooper Board of Directors from 1990 to 2000.

I had the privilege of getting to know Chairman Rainey during his service as chairman, and the more time I got to spend around him the more I grew to admire and respect him. He was a man of character and principle — and those principles would sometimes put him on a collision course with the status quo. In many ways, he was a rebel. I've long viewed him as such and wondered what he would think of that characterization.

Rainey was an Anderson native, the son of a physician. He attended McCallie School, an exclusive prep school in Chattanooga, Tenn. He told me his roommate was Carroll Campbell, the future South Carolina governor.

The young Rainey attended the University of Virginia and then the University of South Carolina School of Law. He later served as an infantry officer in Vietnam. He was Capt. Rainey during those times.

John Rainey had an innate sense of duty. He loved his country. He assumed the chairmanship of Santee Cooper during some trying times, and he restored integrity in the ranks. I know. I saw it firsthand. A conservative ideologically, he saw the value of public power in general in the Palmetto State and a state-owned utility in Santee Cooper in particular. He loved to tell the Santee Cooper story with a slide show back then, before PowerPoint. We called it the "Rainey Road Show," and dozens of civic clubs saw the presentation and got to meet the man.

Rainey, who called Camden home in his later years, was an environmentalist and convinced the Santee Cooper board that it was important to pass the following resolution to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day: "Protection and improvement of our environment are equal in importance to providing affordable electric power."

Under his leadership, Santee Cooper sponsored for several years the South Carolina Environmental Symposium, a forum for the exchange of ideas to apply to action the words of that 1990 resolution. He was on the National Wildlife Federation board and on so many other boards that did so many worthwhile things. He was instrumental in placing the African American monument at the Statehouse grounds. He was well read, polished, erudite. He had a "Cary Grant" quality about him.

At great risk, he challenged a sitting governor over what he perceived as ethical shortcomings. He fought that in court, and lost, and had few if any allies in that fight. But he felt it was right, and when John Rainey was motivated by principle, you knew you were going to hear from him. He was instrumental in the production of the SCETV documentary, "Corridor of Shame," spotlighting public educational deficiencies along the I-95 corridor.

John Rainey represented, and had a vision of, what a better South Carolina could look like. And South Carolina is indeed better because John Rainey made a difference — a big difference — among those he touched and in the state he loved.