His Greatest Memorial
Jean Elton, Former Byrnes Foundation Executive Secretary
Ozymandias, in the poem by Shelley, was a powerful king who ruled over a mighty kingdom. To ensure that posterity would remember his great exploits, he had a magnificent statue created in his image with these words carved on the base: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" Many years later, according to the poem, a traveler found the remains of the statue and the inscription and wondered who this Ozymandias was. All that remained were broken pieces of stone and desert sand where his kingdom had been. His attempt to immortalize himself had failed.
Unlike Ozymandias, James F. Byrnes desired no memorial in stone. As Andy Courtney mentioned in his speech at the luncheon, Governor Byrnes said service to people was the only monument he felt worth leaving.
Indeed, he will be memorialized in the history books for his service service to his state, to his nation, and to his world. His many accomplishments are listed elsewhere on this web site. He will ever stand as one of South Carolina's most famous, most influential sons.
He is remembered by those of you who knew him in a more personal way. According to your own statements, you remember much more than the dollars he gave to help you go to school. You remember his energy, his laughter, his singing, his dancing, his loving, his caring, his giving, his counsel, his decency, his goodness.
His greatest memorial, however, is not in the history books or even in your precious memories for these will fade with time. His greatest memorial is you, the nine hundred or so Byrnes Scholars who have benefited from his generosity. You have made his memory live in at least three ways:
First, you have contributed over $220,000 to the scholarship fund and continue to give, ensuring that what he called "the most rewarding thing I've ever done" will continue long after our lives have ended. Decades from now, new Byrnes Scholars will hear the stories of "Mom" and "Pop" Byrnes and will honor their memories.
Second, you are honoring his memory each day as you give back to society through the work you do. He would have been so proud to read on this web site and others of the successes you've enjoyed, your promotions, your awards, your contributions to your world through your work.
As important as the first two memorials are, probably, the third is most important. That is the way you're emulating Governor Byrnes in your personal lives. When I read all your "extra-curricular" activities, I can see you too energetic, laughing, singing, dancing, loving, caring, giving, counseling good, decent people. Many of you are working with children and young people, helping give direction to their lives. Many are volunteering through schools and churches. Several are serving on boards of colleges and universities. At least five of you have started your own scholarship funds. The influence the Byrnes had on you, you're having on others, an awesome thought.
Yes, you are his greatest memorial, a living memorial, one that will live on and on through the lives you've touched.
I didn't have the privilege of knowing Governor and Mrs. Byrnes personally, but I know them through your memories, and I know them through you, and my live has been enriched. Thank you for touching my life.