NEWBERRY — Former Newberry County Councilman John Edward Caldwell, the first African-American to serve on Newberry County Council, has passed away at the age of 81.
Caldwell’s widow, Patricia Caldwell, said her husband loved people and he was the type of person to give you the shirt off his back. She said when someone said he was a “self-made man,” he would always tell people everyone had help in their life.
“John never met a stranger,” she said.
John Caldwell was born on Feb. 10, 1937 to the late George and Elmira Caldwell in Newberry County.
According to his Newberry County Council biography, he attended Newberry County schools and was a proud athlete, lettering in football, baseball, basketball and track.
Caldwell would go on to further his education at Benedict College, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and mathematics. During his time at Benedict, Caldwell also played football, baseball and track.
He also served in the United States Army during peacetime.
Caldwell was an educator, teaching high school math and science. He was also employed by Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company for 31 years, retiring in 1996. He was the first African-American staff sales manager in South Carolina. In 1984, he was one of four honored at the Sales Seminar in Las Vegas with the Civic Award for “outstanding services rendered.”
Caldwell would go on to serve Newberry County as a councilman for 32 years. He currently holds the record with Councilman Bill Waldrop for years of service. He served as chairman for Council from 1997 until 2002, prior to that he was vice chair from 1993 to 1996.
As well as being the first African-American to serve on Newberry County Council, Caldwell was also one of the first African-Americans to be elected to the Newberry County Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, on which he served 12 years. He also served as the first African-American chairman of the board of trustees.
Caldwell also served in a number of community organizations, he was a 32nd degree Mason, a Shriner, past member of the Visiting Board of Trustees of Piedmont Technical College, past member of the Midlands Human Resource Board, past member of the United Way of the Midlands, past member of the State Community Block Grant Board, past board member of the National Association of Counties, past president of the County Governmental Association, past president and member of the Newberry County Benedict College Alumni Club, past member of the Board of Commissioners of GLEAMNS Human Resources Commission, past member of Overall Economic Development Board, past coordinator for Newberry County Negro College Fund, recognized in Who’s Who Among Black Leaders in 1998, elected as a member of the South Carolina Association of Counties Board of Directors from Aug. 2004-Aug 2008 and a past member of the NACo Finance committee.
In 2008, Caldwell was presented the Lifetime Service Award from Carolina Scholarships, Inc. In 2015, Caldwell was honored for his 32 years of service as a member of Newberry County Council, with the Boundary Street bridge over the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks being renamed County Councilman John E. Caldwell Bridge.
Along with his wife, Caldwell leaves behind a son, Sean Edward Caldwell, a granddaughter, Brittaney Shadday Caldwell and a great-grandson, Lasean Johnathan Caldwell.
Newberry County remembers John Caldwell
“I’ve known John for many years, and he was a wonderful asset to the community. A kind person, thoughtful person, very professional, well liked and he will be missed tremendously. I held him in high regard, and thought he was a difference maker in this county and city. My heart goes out to his family in their time of grief and loss,” said City of Newberry Police Chief Roy McClurkin.
“John Caldwell was truly a great servant of the City of Newberry and Newberry County. He was a mentor. He often called me “Little Lemont” when he saw me because of my size. It’s because of people like him that I decided I wanted to serve the community and to be in the political scene of Newberry. He will truly be missed by myself and the citizens of Newberry County,” said City of Newberry Councilman Lemont Glasgow.
“Mr. Caldwell truly cared about the people of Newberry County and always spoke up for their interests. I appreciated Mr. Caldwell’s judgment and experience and I valued his opinions. I will miss his friendship,” said City of Newberry Mayor Foster Senn.
“John E. Caldwell, whom I’ve known for many many years, was a tremendous asset to the community and to the City of Newberry as a whole. His contributions will not be forgotten,” said City of Newberry Councilman Thomas Louis Boyd.
“I knew John before he decided to run for County Council. We lived in the same district and had mutual friends and acquaintances. When he ran, I supported and voted for him. One of the things I will always remember is the way John said the invocation. He always started his prayer with ‘all heads bowed and all eyes closed.’ I have borrowed this and use his words to open some of my prayers. Another fond memory is of John’s use of the phrase KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) during Council meetings. John was right, you shouldn’t complicate things with bureaucratic nonsense. He wore his name well, Honest John Caldwell,” said Newberry County Councilman Kirksey Koon.
“I was able to serve with him for four years, he was a real stickler for Robert’s Rules of Order, he had a gold bound copy sitting on the bench in front of him. He wanted to do things correctly, the right way, and make sure we were good stewards of the community. That is what he did the whole time I served with him on Council. To be a politician, a statesman and most of all he was a friend, a good person, kind hearted and do what was best for the community,” said Newberry County Councilman Scott Cain.
“He always came well dressed to Council meetings, basically he held a high regard of being an elected official. John respected the people, and he valued his job and put in the effort to make sure he did the right thing for the people. When you look at the bridge that was named after John, I don’t think anything greater can be said about John than that bridge. That was what he was all about, bridging things to make things right, to make things better. Bridges can carry a lot of weight, and John carried a lot of weight for our community over the years,” said Newberry County Councilman and Chairman Henry “Buddy” Livingston.
“John Caldwell was one of the cornerstones of Newberry County. He loved our county and was always available to the citizens in his long service to them. I shall always remember his wonderful laugh and his happy greeting each and every time I saw him. Thanks John for your service. You have been and will be missed. God’s grace and peace to your wonderful family my friend,” said Newberry County Councilwoman Harriett Rucker.
“John was a dedicated councilman for Newberry County for many years. We served together for most of those years and I will miss him,” said Newberry County Councilman Bill Waldrop.
“Mr. Caldwell, he was a great pillar of the neighborhood, as well as the first African-American to be on County Council. I actually helped him to campaign when he was running for County Council. He actually encouraged me to run for County Council. After his 30 something years, I actually came in and took his place. Hopefully, I can do just as well as he did during his time on Council Council,” said Newberry County Councilman Travis Reeder.
“It was an honor and a privilege to serve on Newberry County Council with John. John was a very honorable man, and he had only the best for family and Newberry County at heart. Our prayers go out to Ms. Pat, and his family. He will be sorely missed by all,” said Newberry County Councilman Steve Stockman and his wife Teresa.
“He was a super guy, always had other people at heart. An innovative guy, just kind of amazing to me that he did a little bit of everything. I considered him a good friend, pleasure to work with him over the years, great loss when he became unhealthy, great loss for the county and our community, and an even greater loss today,” said Sheriff Lee Foster.
“He was a leader, a statesman and a friend. For me, especially in my earliest days here as county administrator, he was a rock of support. He left an incredibly positive mark on our county by his service,” said County Administrator Wayne Adams.