Columbia, S.C. -- Lee Bandy, the genial, big-hearted political reporter who earned the title of dean of the South Carolina press corps, died Monday from complications of Parkinsons disease, according to a family member. He was 78.
Bandy spent 40 years at The State, including two decades as the chief Washington correspondent for the newspaper, covering a S.C. delegation that included such larger-than-life figures as the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, retired U.S. Sen. Ernest Fritz Hollings, and the late U.S. Rep. William Jennings Bryan Dorn. In August, Bandy was inducted into The State-Record Hall of Fame, one of four inaugural honorees.
Lee Bandy's contribution to South Carolina politics was as significant as the newsmakers he covered, said Mark E. Lett, executive editor and vice president of The State Media Co. Bandy's reporting and analysis provided generations of South Carolinians with information and insight about the activities and ambitions of this state's statesmen and scoundrels. No matter the story, Bandy's special talents were in evidence: intelligence, discernment, humor, grace, a probing mind and a professional manner that demonstrated his appreciation for the American political process and the highest standards of journalism.
From his perch in the Senate press gallery, Bandy covered political campaigns and chicanery with honesty and candor that earned him grudging respect even among those who were angered by what he wrote. He crossed paths with every president and presidential contender since 1968, and was a fixture at all but one presidential nominating convention from 1968 to 2004.
Ive met a lot of fascinating people, and I might add Ive worked with some wonderful people. Youve been a source of inspiration to me, Bandy told his colleagues upon his retirement in December 2006.
That modesty was vintage Bandy, whose gentle spirit and incisive wit were legendary among those who knew him. Although Bandy guarded his sources, he was generous with his political advice to novice and veteran reporters. Upon his return to South Carolina in the mid-1990s, his desk was a regular stopover for national reporters seeking clues to the vagaries of the states politics and people.
Bandy covered the transformation of South Carolina from a conservative Democratic stronghold to a Republican state, reminding readers of the states complicated history, its sometimes tortured race relations, its strong agrarian tradition and its deep religious roots.
He wrote of the ascendency of the Christian Coalition and other religious right organizations in the late 20th Century. Having grown up as a pastors son deeply immersed in the evangelical church, Bandy understood evangelical Christians and their motivations for entering the public square. When S.C. Republicans positioned the Palmetto State as the first-in-the-South GOP primary, Bandy recognized the importance of the state as a political firewall.
He covered Washington during a more collegial time, when Republicans and Democrats could clash over hot-button issues in floor debates, but later retire to a restaurant or bar to discuss their differences over Scotch on the rocks. Bandy was not above covering the occasional political scandal and relished a good story, but he also understood human frailty.
As word spread Thursday that his condition had worsened, dozens of friends and colleagues gathered on Facebook to relate Bandy stories, anecdotes that spoke of his personal kindness and his seemingly effortless ability to ask the right, and often impertinent, question.