Gardner remembered as public servant and friend
By Samantha Lyles
When John P. Gardner Jr. passed away on Nov. 20 after a three-year fight with cancer, Darlington County lost a capable attorney, a dedicated public servant and a true friend. “He was an excellent political, an excellent lawyer, and just a good guy,” said Robert “Bobby” Kilgo II, who knew Gardner since childhood. Kilgo recalled Gardner as a distinctly bright individual who finished law school at the University of South Carolina in just two and a half years, then won a seat in the S.C. House of Representatives where he was, at that time, the youngest member ever elected. “John did an excellent job for Darlington County,” said Todd Hardee, Darlington County Coroner and longtime friend of Gardner. “He fought for the people. … He was kind of quiet, but he would argue his point all day long for something he believed in.” Hardee noted that John and his father John “Jack” P. Gardner both served in the S.C. House of Representatives, making them one of four father and son duos to ever earn this distinction. Following his House service, John became the third generation to helm The Gardner Law Firm and set about growing the practice into a regional powerhouse, with six locations across the state. Kilgo said that Gardner was known for providing excellent legal counsel to his clients in both civil and criminal matters. Additionally, Gardner served as Commissioner for the Department of Highways and Public Transportation, and Hardee observed that “it was John’s mission to try and pave every road in Darlington County,” except the road where Gardner himself lived. That, Hardee said, was just not how John did things; he did not use his office to benefit himself. Gardner also made an impact beyond our community through motivational speaking and writing. These works included daily television segments called “Designing a Life That Works” that ran for more than five years, four books: “Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneurial Soul,” “Living at the Summit,” “If You Are Me, Then Who Am I?” and “Bound in the Bible.” “John was a great lawyer, an even better person, and even a better friend,” said attorney John R. Etheridge Jr., who knew Gardner for over 30 years. “But the things he really cared about were his faith and his family. He went through a very difficult time with his health, but he never quit fighting and always was cheerful. I learned a lot about approaching problems in life from John.” “He always had a positive word for you. Even when he was sick, he always smiled and was always positive, and he never offered advice unless you asked him,” said Hardee. Kilgo added that Gardner was a strong presence at St. Matthews Episcopal Church, and he stayed active through health setbacks and pandemic-required social distancing, even attending Bible study classes online via Zoom meetings. John is survived by his wife of almost thirty years, Elizabeth Dickerson Gardner, as well as his son: Bryant P. (Mary Beth) Gardner, his granddaughter: E. Camille Gardner, his daughter: E. Peden (Quinton) Gray, his son: E. Burch “Burt” Hughes, his son: D. Wade (Jessica) Hughes, his grandchildren: Emma L. and Thomas W. Hughes, as well as countless friends who became family across his life. He is preceded in death by his parents, his sister: Harriett Gardner Watson, and his son: Younger John Huntington Gardner. A public service will be held on Thursday, December 3rd at 2:00 PM ET at First Baptist Church in Darlington, directed by Kistler-Hardee Funeral Home.