Robert E. McNair was born in 1923 in Cades, South Carolina. McNair served in the U.S. Naval reserves from 1942-1946. He served in the Pacific Theater during World War II and won the bronze star for rescuing sailors from a burning ship struck by Japanese forces. Upon his return, McNair attended the University of South Carolina where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947 and a law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1948. In 1951 McNair was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives where he served until 1962 when he was elected lieutenant governor of South Carolina. McNair became governor of South Carolina in 1965 when Governor Donald Russell resigned. After finishing Russell’s term, McNair was elected governor in the 1966 election. McNair left public office in 1971 to practice law.
Although Governor McNair is known primarily for his leadership during a time of unrest across South Carolina, overseeing conflicts over segregation and Vietnam, one of McNair’s lasting legacies was his dedication to transforming the education system in the South Carolina. McNair recognized that large sectors of South Carolina were unprepared to be productive members of the shifting and growing world economic landscape. Therefore he instituted a vast array of bold measures to prepare the state for its demanding future. Among those measures was the creation in 1970 of Francis Marion University, an institution that would become deeply involved in reaching beyond its academic mission and addressing a vast array of human needs among its regional neighbors. It is this legacy that the McNair Center for Government and History at Francis Marion University wishes to honor and support.