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A legislator, former legislator and college professor to be awarded FMU honorary degrees

FLORENCE--- A state senator, a former state representative and a Francis Marion University professor will be awarded honorary degrees from FMU during spring commencement ceremonies at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 3, in the Smith University Center gymnasium. 

Selected to receive honorary doctoral degrees are: Kent M. Williams of Marion, representing Senate District 30; Harriet Keyserling of Beaufort, who once represented House District 124; and Kenneth Maxwell Autrey Jr. of Columbia, FMU professor of English and FMU faculty chairman. 

Keyserling will also be commencement speaker for the 351 candidates for FMU degrees. Candidates include 329 students for undergraduate degrees and 22 for graduate diplomas.           

Keyserling grew up in New York City, graduated with honors from Barnard College, the women’s college of Columbia University, majoring in economics and mathematics. 

During World War II, she married Herbert Keyserling, a physician of Beaufort and spent the next 30 years raising four children and engaging in community activities, primarily in the field of the arts and social services, in Beaufort. She helped organize a Beaufort branch of the League of Women Voters, which led to her running for Beaufort County Council, to which she was elected in 1974, the first woman to serve there. In 1977, she was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives. 

Keyserling became only the second non-lawyer to serve on the House Judiciary Committee. She also served on the Education, Public Works and Ways and Means committees, the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy and the Joint Legislative Committee on Cultural Affairs, which she chaired from its inception until 1991. She served Governor Dick Riley as an advisor on energy issues, and from 1979 to 1982 was a member of Congress' Advisory Panel on Nuclear Waste Disposal.

She was instrumental in the passage of the comprehensive Education Improvement Act (EIA) during her tenure. Keyserling was also influential in the creation of a Task Force on the Arts in 1980, which ultimately laid the foundation for building an infrastructure for the arts in South Carolina. In 1985, the Joint Legislative Committee on Cultural Affairs (JLCCA) was born out of this effort, and she chaired the committee from its creation until 1991.  

Keyserling retired from the House of Representatives in 1993. Since leaving office, she has remained active on the Spoleto Festival Board of Directors, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, the Beaufort Arts Council and the Palmetto Project.

Her autobiography, Against the Tide: One Woman's Political Struggle, was published in 1998 by the University of South Carolina Press.  

Sen. Williams was elected to the S.C. Senate in 2004 to represent District 30, which includes portions of Florence, Dillon, Marion and Marlboro counties. He was sworn in for a four-year term in January of 2005. He was appointed to the Agriculture and Natural Resources; Fish, Game and Forestry; Corrections and Penology; General; Judiciary; and Education Oversight committees. He is also a member of the Immigration Study Committee.

Sen. Williams was born in Marion County to James and Thelma Howard Williams. After graduation from high school, he received an associate’s degree from Florence-Darlington Technical College and a bachelor’s degree from South Carolina State University.

He has worked for Independence Federal Savings and Loan Bank in Washington, D.C.; South Carolina State University; and Clemson Extension Service. He is currently deputy county administrator for Marion County.   In service to his community, he was a member of the Marion County Board of Education from 1998 to 2004, where he served four of those years as chair. 

Before becoming a legislator, former Governor Carroll Campbell appointed him to the 12th Judicial Circuit South Carolina Agriculture Commission. He also served on the 12th Judicial Circuit Youth Council Board, Duke Endowment Board and the Marion District of the Rural Commission on Economic Development.

In addition, Sen. Williams served as the director and treasurer of the Marion District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Boy Scouts. He is a member and steward of the St. James A.M.E. Church in Marion.

Autrey was born in Wilkes Barre, Pa., but was reared in Auburn, Ala. His mother was a homemaker while his father was a college professor in Auburn University’s School of Agriculture. Autrey’s father also led faculty governance initiatives serving as president of the faculty senate at Auburn University.

After graduating high school, Autrey attended Davidson College where he earned the B.A. degree in English in 1967. It was then that he served for two years as a Peace Corps English teacher in Ghana, West Africa. Subsequently, he taught in upstate New York middle and junior high schools.

Autrey has been a member of the FMU faculty since 1989. Prior to coming to FMU, he taught at the University of South Carolina and Tougaloo College. In 1996-97, he was a visiting professor at Hiroshima University in Japan while on leave from FMU. 

He earned the M.A. degree in English from Auburn University in 1973, and the Ph.D. degree in English from the University of South Carolina in 1986.

He is currently chair of the FMU Faculty and teaches courses in composition, poetry writing and literary nonfiction. He has published articles and chapters on the teaching of writing and on contemporary poets. His poetry has appeared in many magazines and anthologies.

Autrey and his wife, the former Janne Weir Debes, have two daughters: Tess Autrey Bosher of Richmond, Va. and Nell Autrey Driggers of Ocean Springs, Miss. Autrey has five grandchildren.

#162 /4-2-08

Last Published: April 18, 2008 2:58 PM
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