A U.S. senator or congressman should consider it a compliment to be equated with Butler Derrick. These days, however, far too many voters scoff at Derrick-styled elected officials and want to vote them out of office.
Derrick, who died Monday at the age of 77 following a months-long battle with cancer, was a highly respected congressman who represented the 3rd Congressional District for two decades since he was first elected in the mid-1970s. Prior to that, he was a state representative, serving from 1968 until he sought the congressional seat.
Derrick’s roots intertwined with many of South Carolina’s political giants, having grown up in Edgefield. A lawyer by trade, he followed in the footsteps of many whose law background dovetails into a desire to serve in public office. Why anyone currently serving in the Senate or Congress would be proud to be compared to Derrick has everything to do with the man’s style. He was viewed as a pragmatist, a man who would work behind the scenes with his colleagues in order to accomplish something meaningful. And he was respected by members of both political parties. Perhaps it would be safe to describe Butler Derrick as a true statesman who, despite having the letter “D” behind is name, stood able and always able to work with Republicans and Democrats alike. In fact, he has been described as “a bridge between liberals and conservatives.”


The respect afforded Derrick gave cause for him to be tapped for top leadership positions, such as the House Rules Committee, to which he was appointed by the legendary House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill. Had he not chosen to retire in 1995, he was next in line to serve as that committee’s chairman. His success in heading a task force that resulted in a budget being passed in 1980 go the attention of another Speaker of the House, Tom Foley, who appointed Derrick to the Chief Deputy Whip role.
Back home, Derrick is remembered for his efforts to save the textile industry from its demise as those jobs crept away from our nation’s borders and our state, where textiles were once king. While he remained focused on his district’s economies and did what he could to bolster those, he also cared deeply about the environment. Thus his involvement in attempts to create a regional compact so South Carolina would not be saddled with all of the nuclear waste disposal at the Savannah River Site.
In 2002, Derrick received our state’s highest civilian award, The Order of the Palmetto. The award, presented by then-Gov. Jim Hodges, was given for Derrick’s “contributions and friendship to the state of South Carolina.”
There are, of course, people in elected office who mirror Butler Derrick’s style of public service. What is sad, however, is when they too attempt to be a bridge between liberals and conservatives, the response from some of their constituents resembles a scene out of “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”