Dr. Harry McKinley Lightsey, Jr. was born on December 27, 1931 in Columbia, South Carolina to Ellen Glenn and Harry M. Lightsey, Sr. He graduated from Dreher High School and Clemson University. Following his graduation from Clemson, he received a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Georgia. He practiced veterinary medicine in Allendale until 1958, when he returned to school to study law. He earned his Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1961, graduating summa cum laude, Outstanding Law School Graduate, and First Honor Graduate.
Lightsey served as Assistant Attorney General for the State of South Carolina; General Counsel to the S.C. Public Service Commission; and legal advisor to the president of the S.C. Senate, the S.C. Finance Committee, and the S.C. Senate Banking and Insurance Commission. He argued a number of groundbreaking civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and became recognized as one of the nation’s leading lawyers in the field of regulatory and administrative law.
Lightsey was a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law for nearly 20 years. In 1980, he became Dean of the Law School and served in that capacity until 1986, when he became President of the College of Charleston. During his tenure, the University of Charleston, more often referred to as The Graduate School was founded to expand the College of Charleston’s graduate programs. The College of Charleston was also admitted into the NCAA during this time. In 1992, he returned to Columbia and continued his law practice with the McNair Law Firm.
He was chairman of John C. West’s successful campaign for Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina in 1966 and served as chair of the S.C. Democratic Party in 1970. He also served on the National Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, and as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Belle W. Baruch Foundation. He was a member of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and served there as a member of the vestry. In 1991, he received the Durant Distinguished Public Service Award from the S.C. Bar Foundation, and in 1993 he received the Order of the Palmetto.
Harry loved the practice of law, but more than that he thrived on teaching it. He will be remembered for his great intellect and his keen sense of public service. Above all, he will be remembered as a teacher and leader in higher education and the law. As Governor McNair said at Harry’s funeral, “No one else has contributed more to this state over a lifetime.”
Painted by Bill Benson in 1999.
Located in the Dean’s Suite hallway.