Journalist, historian William ‘Bill’ Kinney Jr. dies

Mar 1, 2023


BENNETTSVILLE, South Carolina — Veteran journalist, historian and civic leader William Light “Bill” Kinney Jr., 89, of Bennettsville died peacefully at his family antebellum home, Magnolia, under the loving care of his daughter, Elisabeth Kinney McNiel, on Sunday night, February 19, 2023.

The lifelong resident of Bennettsville was editor and publisher emeritus of the Marlboro Herald-Advocate, McColl Messenger and The Marlboro Shopper, as well as former president of Marlboro Publishing Co. Inc. He was a longtime contributor to the South Carolina Press Association (SCPA), was a past president of that organization and president of the SCPA Foundation. He was a founder of the SCPA Hall of Fame. He also authored several historical books and won state and national journalistic awards.

He was born during The Great Depression, the only child of William Light Kinney and Annie Laurie Mayer Kinney on October 26, 1933, in Bennettsville, in the home of his paternal grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. John Frank Kinney, as was his father.

He was a 1951 honor graduate of Bennettsville High School and editor of “The Green Wave” school newspaper.

He then attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, as did his father and grandfather before him, graduating in 1954 after three years of study with a Bachelor of Science degree while majoring in biology, chemistry, physics and math. While at Wofford, he was inducted into The Phi Beta Kappa Society, Senior Order of Gnomes and Blue Key Honor Society; edited the college handbook and “The Bohemian” school yearbook; served as student body president; was a member of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC); sang in the Men’s Glee Club; and was a vice president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, SC Gamma Chapter. He was always a proud Terrier alumnus and earned his most cherished distinction by being bestowed an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the College in 1999.

He attended the University of South Carolina College of Journalism from 1954-1955, where he edited the college’s laboratory newspaper and later graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism in 1977. He proudly served in the United States Army, stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia from 1954-1958. He then returned to Bennettsville, joining his parents in the operation of Marlboro Publishing Co., and in 1972 bought the business from them.

While traveling cross-country with his good friend, Jimmy Cannon of Hartsville, they stopped in Atlanta to visit friends. There he was introduced to his future wife, Margaret René Pegues, on his 29th birthday, October 26, 1962, by a longstanding mutual family friend, Florie McLeod Ervin of Florence. After an 18-month courtship, they married at Central United Methodist Church in Monroe, North Carolina, where her mother then lived, on March 21, 1964.

Upon marriage, they moved to Bennettsville, and there they lived, raising their two children, Elisabeth Mayer Kinney McNiel and William Light Kinney III, and doting on three grandchildren, Lee, Margaret Jane and Light McNiel. Since 1979, he relished hosting family and friends at the family summer cottage, “-30-”, in Pawleys Island.

He loved to travel, visiting all 50 states and many foreign countries. Highlights include when the Soviet Union opened its doors to receive U.S. tourists in 1960 for the first time since the Cold War, spending the summer of 1963 in England with the Experiment in International Living and being a participant in a United Methodist medical mission trip to Jérémie, Haiti, in 1976.

For over 65 years, he spearheaded and led community, state and national improvement efforts through his newspaper writings and personal service.

He was a lifelong active member of First United Methodist Church, where he served as lay leader and had numerous administrative roles. He sang bass in its Chancel Choir for 75 years until his failing health would not allow him to continue to regularly participate. He was a strong advocate of the church’s music ministry, including his love and admiration for the Cassavant organ.

He tirelessly worked with likeminded folks, demonstrating unselfish volunteer service to better his beloved hometown of Bennettsville and greater Marlboro County. He served as a Bennettsville city councilman and mayor pro-tempore, as well as a leader and board member of The Kinney Foundation, Whipple Marlboro Fund, Marlboro County Economic Development Board, Lakeside Residential Development, Bennettsville United Fund, Bennettsville Chamber of Commerce and Bennettsville Jaycees. He was instrumental in the formation of the Marlboro Civic Center Foundation and the restoration of the 1917 opera house, and he was chairman at the time of his death.

He was an active and involved member of the Rotary Club of Bennettsville since 1958, having served as club president for two terms, maintained 65 years of perfect attendance and was twice named a Paul Harris Fellow. He believed in the Rotary motto, “Service Above Self” and strived to live that out daily as well as instilling the values of being a servant leader and leaving legacy of charitable giving in his family.

His passion for history and historic preservation began at a young age and continued throughout his life. Locally, he served as president of the Marlborough Historical Society, as well as chairman of the Marlboro County Historic Preservation Commission and Bennettsville Board of Architectural Review/Tree Committee. He chaired the restoration of an 1826 house museum, an 1831 home once used as the county courthouse, 1834 and 1903 schoolhouses, his 1853 home and 1902 former office building. His adaptive use of two old downtown buildings for his newspaper offices was twice featured in the National Newspaper Association’s (NNA) Publishers’ Auxiliary.

He was known to many as the most dedicated advocate of preserving South Carolina’s history. He secured 25 Official state historical markers within his home county and led major downtown improvement efforts as vice chairman of the Bennettsville Downtown Development Association. He helped secure National Register status for two municipal historic districts. He served as county chairman of the state Tricentennial in 1970 and the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976.

He was also active at the state level in numerous capacities, including previously serving as chairman of the South Carolina Archives and History Commission as a gubernatorial appointee for 36 years and was vice chairman at the time of his death. He also remained chairman of the state Review Board for National Register Nominations. He was past president of the state Historical Society, state Confederation of Local Historical Societies, Friends of Brookgreen Gardens, and state Methodist Conference Commission on Archives and History. He also served as vice chairman of the Official South Carolina Hall of Fame. He was a board member of the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, the State Development Board, Brookgreen Gardens, McLeod Regional Medical Center Foundation, Pawleys Island Civic Association, and University South Caroliniana Society.

For 30 years, he served as a congressional appointee to the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and was board chairman for three terms. He was a member of the National Board of Advisors of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and chairman of its Southern Region Board of Advisors for four years. He also served as a director of the Wofford College National Alumni Association and the United States Jaycees.
In acknowledgment of his many contributions, efforts and accomplishments, he was presented South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, The Order of the Palmetto, in 2015 by Governor Nikki Haley. At the same time, Bennettsville City Council named the two entrances into the large off-Main Street Municipal Parking Lot as “Bill Kinney Jr. Way” in his honor.

Other recognitions include being listed in Who’s Who in America since 1982, presented the USC College of Journalism’s McKissick Award in 1955, named to the USC College of Journalism’s Diamond Circle in 1998, presented the NNA Amos Award for longstanding community service in 2016, named state Jaycees Young Man of the Year in 1961, twice the recipient of the state Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Historic Preservation, named a SC Hometown Hero by the state Downtown Development Association, was recipient of the state Arts Commission’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner State Arts Advocacy Award, the recipient of the state General Assembly’s Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, and was named Marlboro County Economic Development Ambassador. In 2022, the Marlboro Chamber of Commerce named its annual Community Leader Award in his honor.

He retired from day-to-day operations of the publishing company in 2014, turning over the business to his daughter, Elisabeth, and her husband, Dan McNiel. He remained active in religious, civic, advocacy and volunteer efforts until just recently. He continued to enjoy serving as an enthusiastic walking tour guide for any visitor to Bennettsville, his office or home.

For the past few months, he struggled valiantly with a diagnosis of Parkinsonism and its related complications, all the while demonstrating his strong faith in Jesus Christ, genteel Southern nature and good humor to family and friends.

Survivors include his daughter (and son-in-law), Elisabeth Mayer Kinney McNiel (Daniel Edward McNiel) of Bennettsville; three grandchildren, Robert Leland McNiel III (Emma Johnson McNiel) of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Margaret Jane McNiel of Knoxville, Tennessee, and William Light Kinney McNiel of Wofford College, Spartanburg; two and one-half year–old great–grandson, Robert Leland McNiel IV of Chattanooga; 10–month old great–granddaughter, Rose Catherine McNiel of Chattanooga; sister-in-law, Frances Elisabeth Pegues Burroughs of Conway, Arkansas; nephew, Henry Buck Burroughs III (Julie Legg Burroughs) of Brandon, Florida; niece, Victoria McNeill Burroughs of North Charleston; great-nephew, Henry Buck (Hank) Burroughs IV, also of Brandon; and numerous Mayer and Kinney cousins and close friends.

In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his wife of 57 years, Margaret René Pegues Kinney, on July 31, 2021, and 20-year-old son, William Light Kinney III, on July 21, 1989.

A Celebration of Life service was held Feb. 22, 2023, at First United Methodist Church in Bennettsville, followed by burial at Sunset Memorial Park. The family received friends at his home.

Memorial donations may be given to the William Light Kinney III ’91 Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wofford College, Attention: Office of Advancement, 429 North Church Street, Spartanburg, SC 29303.

Online condolences may be offered here.