A firefighter for 50 years: Friends, family mourn Stone
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
A line of fire trucks and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, escorted the body of Jim Stone home from a Florence hospital last Thursday night.
Stone, who had worked with the Darlington Fire Department for 50 years, including more than a quarter-century as fire chief, died Feb. 7 after a long struggle with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), friends said. Stone, 78, had retired from the fire department in 2012.
Stone died at McLeod Regional Medical Center, where he had gone for treatment as his illness worsened. Within hours of his death, Darlington fire trucks and rescue vehicles arrived at McLeod and formed a funeral procession away from the hospital.
“It was extremely touching,” said Stone’s friend Rodney Langley, a former Darlington city manager. “It was a show of respect for sure. … I don’t know how they got the word out” so fast.
Stone received another rare tribute on Saturday, when his body lay inside a flag-draped casket in the lobby of the Darlington County Courthouse for about four hours during the afternoon and evening. Mourners filed past the casket.
By 5:45 p.m., less than two hours into the visitation, dozens of people stood in line outside the courthouse. A family member estimated that as many as 1,000 people had paid their respects to Stone by 6:30 p.m.
Langley said Stone, whose father had also been a firefighter, “had the job that he loved and wanted” during his five decades with the Darlington Fire Department. “I think he was happy.”
Former Darlington mayor Ronnie Ward, who appointed Stone fire chief about 1984, said Stone started at the department as a volunteer, then became a paid firefighter, then assistant chief, then chief. “Jimmy’s heart and soul revolved around the fire department,” Ward said. “He was just 100 percent.”
“He was a great fire chief,” said Ward, who served five terms as Darlington mayor (1984-2004). “He loved Darlington. He pretty much gave his life to Darlington. It was his home; he loved it dearly.”
“Jimmy Stone was a legend in Darlington,” said former mayor Tony Watkins.
Stone also served on Darlington County Council as both chairman and vice chairman and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2015. But it was firefighting, not politics, that was his real love, friends said.
Stone’s father worked with the Darlington Fire Department for many years, said Ward. “Jimmy just sort of grew up around it. It was something he always loved.”
Langley said he remembers Stone as “a great chief, but an even greater friend. … I’ll always remember him for his friendship, the type of employee he was, the type of friend he was.” Langley says people should remember Stone’s “dedication to the city of Darlington, his dedication to the fire department.” Stone looked out for his firefighters and always sought better equipment for them, he said.
Stone had played football as a student at St. John’s High School, Langley said. “He was a character. … We lost a lot of good old stories (with Stone’s death). He had more stories that he could tell …”
Stone’s son-in-law Jeff Burr is fire chief in Hartsville, Langley noted: “It’s a firefighting family.”
Funeral arrangements were handled by Kistler-Hardee Funeral Home. Funeral services were Sunday at First Baptist Church in Darlington with burial in Grove Hill Cemetery. Stone is survived by his wife of 53 years, Dot Autry Stone, and children and grandchildren: Angie (Ken) Godbold, Jacey Stone (Jeff Burr), and Jason (Jen) Stone; his grandson Stone Godbold, and three granddaugthers, Raychel, Leah and Jenna Stone; his niece, Joanna (Tony) Hall and nephews Joey (Sheree) Godwin and Jim (Shannon) Godwin.