Following is the text of 2004 Scholar Tyler Gailey's
address at the Byrnes Foundation 45th annual luncheon, June
14, 2008, as he reported on the dedication of the Byrnes Room at the Clemson University Copper Library. He was joined by Ward Buzzell,
an activist who spearheaded the rededication of the Byrnes Room.
Tyler Gailey, 2004 Scholar...
I would like to begin by telling you one of my favorite James F. Byrnes
quotes; "When a youngster calls me Jimmy, I know I’ve got
his Daddy’s vote." Now to me this quote brings up two great
points about this man. First, he was a humble politician and servant
who valued the importance of relationships and second, that he never
forgot where he came from even when he reached the highest positions
in Washington. I think these are points we could all learn from. This
quote is predominately displayed in the James
F. Byrnes room in the Cooper Library at Clemson University.
First, Governor Byrnes was appointed a Life Trustee of Clemson in
1941. Some twenty years later he donated a lot of his papers and things
to Clemson’s archives. Clemson used some of the things he donated
to create a room honoring him on campus in the library. The room was
dedicated November 26, 1966, at a ceremony both Mom and Pop Byrnes
were able to attend. The room did not change for the better until a
man had the idea to do something about it. I am honored to call this
man a friend of mine, a man that we all should strive to be, and a
great testament to the Clemson family. Ward Buzzell has dedicated most
of his life to making Clemson a better place.
Blue Key Honor Society is a national honor society founded at the
University of Florida in 1928. Clemson received its chapter in 1932,
and it is one of Clemson’s oldest honor societies. Since 1932,
Blue Key has inducted a little over 1400 members who represent the
Top 1% of students on campus in areas of scholarship, leadership, and
service. James F. Byrnes was made an honorary member of Blue Key in
the late 1930s. Blue Key’s motto is a mantra that I think Governor
Byrnes would have enjoyed, “Serving I Live.” Blue Key,
since 1932, has done many service projects on and off of Clemson’s
campus. These projects range from the yearly student-run pep rally
Tigerama to projects on campus like the Byrnes room. There are many
other members of Blue Key who couldn’t be here today that played
a key role in this project in addition to Ward and myself.
As many of you know, especially the ones from Super Weekend, I am
big on challenges and would like to leave you with one. I challenge
you all to find something special to you whether it is in your house,
your community, your school, office, church, whatever it may be, and
make sure that you care for it while not growing complacent with it
over time. Now what do I mean by this? The Byrnes room slowly deteriorated
over 40 years and no Clemson student, employee, or alum did anything
about it expect watch until Ward came along. We cannot let historical,
priceless, or sentimental places of interest to you fall by the wayside.
You don’t have to be the one who donates the money; just be the
one who makes it a priority to get something done. If we all try to
do this, imagine just how beautiful this world will be. Thank you very
want to thank you for inviting me to meet with you today. You are an
auspicious group. As Tyler may have told you, Jimmy Byrnes is one of
my favorite Americans, certainly my favorite South Carolinian. When
I was asked to speak about the renovation of the James F. Byrnes Room
in the Clemson University library, I didn’t hesitate in accepting.
Anything to perpetuate the memory of this outstanding statesman.
I don’t recall when my love affair began with Governor Byrnes.
Probably about the time I learned that President Roosevelt had twice
deceived him about becoming his vice presidential running mate. This
led me to reading the biography, Sly and Able – today
my copy is a bit tattered from reading it over the years. In 1982 our
oldest son entered Clemson to study architecture and a year later I
was invited to come to see him get an architecture award. With a little
extra time on my hands I wandered into the library and to my pleasant
surprise I saw the entrance to the Byrnes room – I had not heard
of the room. But what I saw in the room was not so pleasant. To be
brief, it was a lousy tribute to one of South Carolina’s most
prominent statesmen, in my opinion second only to John C. Calhoun.
Across the library foyer was the Edgar Brown Room which had a most
dignified display for the state senator, certainly not like the shabby
treatment given the Byrnes room. I discovered that Brown was nothing
in comparison to Byrnes, that the room had been provided as a political
gesture and not in any sense for his greatness.
When I got home I wrote a very polite letter to the librarian suggesting
that attention should be given to improve the quality of the room,
but I never received a reply. Two years later, still appalled at the
condition of the room, I wrote another letter – not quite so
polite. When our youngest son graduated I again checked into the room
and it remained untouched, still in its deplorable condition. In reality
it was nothing more than a passageway for the librarian to take to
get to his office. In 1992 my wife and I retired to Clemson and I began
trying to find a way to get the room refurbished as an appropriate
tribute to Governor Byrnes, but every idea failed. However, in 2005
I was made an honorary member of the Blue Key National Honor Society,
a group of the top one percent of Clemson students both academically
and in terms of leadership (I throw that in for Tyler’s sake – he
is a member of Blue Key).
In Blue Key I saw an avenue whereby the room might be brought up to
a semblance of dignity befitting Gov. Byrnes. The membership voted
unanimously to undertake the project. We put together a Blue Key committee
of five members and we began making plans. We got President Jim Barker’s
approval of our plan, so we were off to the races, the only obstacle
being the librarian who insisted he have the right to modify and final
approval of our plans. Fortunately, he retired during the planning
and the new librarian agreed with our assessment of the room. However,
we needed to raise the money for a budget of 50 thousand dollars.
Luckily one of our Blue Key members was noted for her fund raising
ability, so we took her to dinner to persuade her to join our group.
You could see her face light up as we described our plans for the project,
and she became eager to help. That evening she described the project
in enthusiastic terms to her roommate, who just happened to be the
daughter of an influential state senator. She got so excited she called
her father that same night and he too became so enthused he said he
was going to introduce a bill in the legislature the next morning to
fund the project. However, this was not so good because I now was in
a real pickle. I knew Pres. Barker was to be meeting with the senator’s
committee the next morning and it would appear to Jim Barker that we
were blindsiding him. We weren’t – this all happened in
a matter of four or five hours one evening. I sent an e-mail to Pres.
Barker explaining the situation, hoping his secretary would read it
and forewarn him while he was in Columbia. She did, and the upshot
was that Barker told the senator that Clemson would pay the tab, apparently
hoping to avoid the embarrassment from the public knowing Clemson had
allowed the room to fall into such a disreputable condition.
So, with money in our pocket we went to work, and in late May of 2007
President Barker and former president Bob Edwards cut the ribbon for
the unveiling. Some of you were able to be there for the occasion.
I hope that whenever you are in Clemson you will stop by and visit
the James F. Byrnes Room – I think you will be pleased and proud.
As a student I saw Jimmy Byrnes a few times from a distance, but I
never had the opportunity to meet him. When he was on campus for a
trustees’ meeting he would inevitably stand on the rise above
the parade ground to watch us cadets pass in review. I can still see
him now. He may have been a small man in stature, but what a great
man – a giant of a man – he was in real life.
Donate To The Foundation
In return for their generosity and support, Mom and Pop Byrnes asked only two things from us: become the very best people we could become in life, and make sure their legacy of family continues for those who come after us.
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