Former President Bill Clinton was in Columbia on Monday for an event honoring one of his longtime cabinet members and a former South Carolina governor.
Clinton spoke at the opening celebration for the Richard W. Riley Collection at the University of South Carolina. Riley served two terms as Clinton’s Secretary of Education — the only education secretary to do so for any president. Prior to being appointed to the post, Riley served as Clinton’s state campaign chairman.
Clinton explained how they got to know each other serving as governors.
“In 1980 the people of South Carolina thought so much of Dick, they changed the Constitution so he could get another term,” Clinton said. “And the people of Arkansas thought so little of me they denied me a second term!”
The Greenville native and lifelong Democrat served two consecutive terms as South Carolina’s governor from 1979 to 1987. Before that, Riley served in the state House and Senate from 1963 until 1977. Riley’s mission throughout his career was a dedication to education for all, including passage of the 1984 Education Improvement Act.
The Richard W. Riley Collection of his political papers will be kept at the University’s special collections library. South Carolina Political Collections, a special collections division within University Libraries, has been receiving materials from Secretary Riley since the 1990s.
“It’s really our collection, not my collection,” he said.
The staff worked for five years to organize, preserve, describe and catalog more than 100,000 documents. The university said the Richard W. Riley Collection is among the most comprehensive archives in the university’s S.C. Political Collections.
“I hope this collection will inspire others to pursue public service in a meaningful way, to attack issues but not individuals,” Riley said, after Clinton noted Republicans were also in attendance to honor the former governor Monday. “I hope they would see in this exhibit you can be into the issues without bringing others down. Young people and, yes, all people. Especially young people who have all their dreams ahead of them.”
“These papers reflect a man who had the single most important quality of a public servant: he kept score in the right way,” Clinton said.
Clinton spoke at an invitation-only event at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center.
“If we all, all of us, work for the public good, we’ll move in the right direction, I’m absolutely convinced of that,” Riley said. “Working towards peace, towards a happy, meaningful, healthy, safe life for everyone.”
The 85-year-old Riley recognized his family and colleagues in the state and federal government who helped him throughout his career.
“You all are my village,” he told them. “I haven’t done anything by myself.”
The exhibit Richard W. Riley: Statesman of Education, is open through Dec. 23 at the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library Gallery.
Riley’s alma mater Furman University established the Richard W. Riley Institute of Government, Politics and Public Leadership in 1999. He has been named a Distinguished Professor at Furman and at the University of South Carolina.