2009-10-23 / Society

The Columbia Star celebrates the life of Katherine Stallings Dunlap Katherine Dunlap serves eight governors

By Jackie Perrone February 22, 2008
Editor’s note: This story was published

Katherine Dunlap and Gov. James Byrnes, the first governor she assisted. Katherine Dunlap and Gov. James Byrnes, the first governor she assisted.

in The Columbia Star two days before

Katherine Dunlap’s 100th birthday.

Katherine Stallings Dunlap came and stayed. In 1950, Gov. James F. Byrnes persuaded her to begin a career as an assistant in the governor's officer. Twenty–nine years and eight governors later, she stepped down from her front row position at the seat of power with a unique perspective on how things are done and the personalities of the men who did them.

The office that now includes several hundred administrative employees was staffed in 1951 by Byrnes with five assistants. He encouraged Stallings (Dunlap) to learn all the duties at hand. “I don’t want to have someone calling here, and we need something done, and the only person who knows how to do it is out,” he instructed her.

Governor James B. Edwards displays the state’s prize–winning watermelon, which he is sure weighs more than Katherine Dunlap, his fiscal affairs assistant. Governor James B. Edwards displays the state’s prize–winning watermelon, which he is sure weighs more than Katherine Dunlap, his fiscal affairs assistant. She was known as the lady who would take on any task needed. She worked on many projects and assisted Mrs. Byrnes by serving at official functions at the “Governor's House” as Byrnes called it.

Dunlap said, “South Carolina was beginning to return to normal after the war years. There was great need for industry, and the schools had been neglected. It took a man of Gov. Byrnes’s prestige to persuade the General Assembly to enact a sales tax dedicated to improvement of the state’s segregated school system ‘because it was the right thing to do.’

Katherine Stallings Dunlap, Converse College Class of '29, is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumna Award. She was an education and psychology major at Converse and has devoted much of her life to public service. Katherine Stallings Dunlap, Converse College Class of '29, is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumna Award. She was an education and psychology major at Converse and has devoted much of her life to public service. “Gov. Byrnes, with the help of then Speaker of the House Ernest F. Fritz Hollings and others in the legislature, got the three percent sales tax Education Finance Act passed, to be used for school improvement. Many new schools were built, the majority for the black race, making good his campaign promise: ‘Separate, but equal.’"

Dunlap married Maj. Lonnie Dunlap of the U.S. Air Force in 1952, while he was stationed in New York City with the Voice of America. She continued her work in Columbia during the months he was stationed at distant points.

After his discharge in 1954, he became a consultant for safety and driver education in state government. By this time, she had become a specialist in the area of extradition, but she continued doing whatever was needed, “from sweeping the floor to preparing official documents. I always felt anything done, even if it was small and trivial, was important to somebody, and the people of South Carolina were our true clients.

Photo by Edward Burton Dawn Mercer Plank featured Katherine Dunlap on the 6 o’clock news on Channel 10 Tuesday, February 24, 2009, Mrs. Dunlap’s 101st birthday. Photo by Edward Burton Dawn Mercer Plank featured Katherine Dunlap on the 6 o’clock news on Channel 10 Tuesday, February 24, 2009, Mrs. Dunlap’s 101st birthday. “Because Gov. Byrnes was such a good mentor and teacher, when the call came from his successor, George Bell Timmerman, to continue serving on the staff, I accepted. Gov. Timmerman continued the push for education and also for highway improvement and construction. He signed the act, which made it possible for Bowater to construct a million dollar plant here, the largest industry in S.C. at that time. He was also concerned with a peaceful transition to integration in the schools.”

The term of Gov. Hollings began in 1959 and is known primarily for the development of the state’s technical education system. Recruitment of new industry began during the terms of Byrnes and Timmerman, and Hollings realized unless trained workers were available, new jobs would not materialize.

Hollings has said of Dunlap, "Everyone in state government is well acquainted with Katherine’s background and knows of her loyal and dedicated service through the years. During my term as governor, I relied on her experience and knowledge in many areas, and she never failed to perform effectively and efficiently. The fact that every governor of our state has found her to be a valuable and necessary member of his staff is proof positive of her ability. She also has the personality and pleasant attitude necessary to meet and deal with the public.”

“During the last days of his administration,” Dunlap recalls, “plans were put forth to enroll the first black student at Clemson. Gov. Hollings took precautions to make sure there was no violence.

“Gov. Donald Russell was in office that historic day when Harvey Gantt entered Clemson, the first black person to enroll in a white college in S.C. It was an occasion made nonviolent by the careful planning of state leaders, including many who had long defended segregation.”

Dunlap remembers Donald Russell as a governor with financial expertise who worked with department heads for the prudent administration of state funds. His term was shortened when he resigned to assume the office of U.S. senator on the death of Olin D. Johnston. This brought Lt. Gov. Robert E. McNair into the office of governor. McNair completed two remaining years of Russell’s term and then was elected to a full four–year term.

“Katherine was a very important and integral part of the governor’s staff during my time in office,” McNair said. “She was responsible for handling the financial affairs of the office and always did an outstanding job. She was capable and efficient and a devoted and loyal employee. She was justifiably proud she had served under every governor beginning with Byrnes. No one was more dedicated, conscientious, and productive. She always served as an excellent role model for everyone in the office.”

McNair, like John C. West who succeeded him, possessed a calm and judicious temperament. This served both men well during tumultuous years of civil rights upheaval. West said, "I remember Katherine for several reasons. First of all, she had a true institutional memory. Her ability to recall how previous governors had approached problems was invaluable. This memory, along with her personality, was a conservative influence in our office. By providing continuity, she helped establish a feeling of continuity, she helped establish a feeling confidence in the executive branch.”

A startling development saw Republican James B. Edwards elected to the governorship in 1974. Dunlap by then was indispensable. Edwards recalls that “she knew all the details necessary to get a job done and where to go for resources not easily found. Every chief officer dreams of having a Katherine Dunlap on his/her staff.”

Dunlap remembers that Gov. Edwards administration was characterized by continuing the expansion of industry, technical training, and education. The Medical College in Charleston was expanded and a new medical college was established in Columbia. Also, university branches were added around the state. Edwards wrote her, “A great portion of credit for our success certainly goes to you, for you have done an outstanding job.”

Democrats regained the governorship with the election of Richard W. Riley. He said, “State employees who provide basic services for our people often receive very little credit and publicity. Katherine Dunlap provided stability and continuity for the executive department for many years, and all South Carolinians thank her for her loyal and competent service to the state. This warm, friendly, and beautiful person has made outstanding contributions.”

The Order of the Palmetto has been presented to Dunlap three times by governors West, Edwards, and Riley, who was governor when she retired. The House and Senate presented her with a concurrent resolution, and she was invited to address the Senate. “I have no idea what I said to them,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap recalls her father telling her years ago that he hoped she would find work that would be more of a service to mankind than just making money. “Also, he cautioned me to work for the very best people I could,” she said. Dunlap feels she has done just that. “I realized what a privileged person I was when I found my niche in serving the people of our state,” said Dunlap.

“In the ’50s, I thought after Gov. Byrnes’s term ended, I would move back to Spartanburg and run for superintendent of education,” said Dunlap.

Dunlap lived at the Presbyterian Retirement Home of Columbia, surrounded by memorabilia of three decades at the center of authority.

On February 24, 2008, Katherine Stallings Dunlap was 100 years old. On February 23, 2008, former colleagues of the Governor's Officer gave her a big party. Three of the former governors who are still living, Hollings, Edwards, and Riley were invited to her celebration.

Katherine Stallings Dunlap, 101, died Sunday, October 11, 2009 at Presbyterian Community of Columbia. A memorial service will be held at a later date. She is survived by two nieces: Dr. Joy Stallings McLaughlin of Asheboro, N.C.; Mrs. Martha Stallings Line of Omaha, Neb.; and a nephew James Gordon Stallings of Sandy Ridge, N.C. and 11 grand–nieces and nephews. She was the widow of Lt. Col. Lonnie Dunlap of West Columbia.

Mrs. Dunlap was born in Spartanburg, the daughter of Edgar Lee and Jane Flenniken Stallings. She majored in education and psychology at Converse College. She was working in the local school district office when James F. Byrnes was elected governor of South Carolina, and he persuaded her to move to Columbia to assist in his office beginning in 1951.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials to Shandon Presbyterian Church, The Presbyterian Community of Columbia, or a charity of choice.

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