FLORENCE---Three state leaders will be awarded honorary degrees from Francis Marion University during spring commencement exercises at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 5.
Selected to receive honorary doctoral degrees are: David H. Wilkins of Greenville, the speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives; J. Yancey McGill of Kingstree, a state senator representing District 32; and Ernest A. Finney Jr. of Sumter, retired chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court. All have had distinguished careers in service to South Carolina.
Rep. Wilkins will also be the commencement speaker for the 249 candidates for FMU degrees. Candidates include 209 students for undergraduate degrees, 25 for graduate diplomas, and 15 for Medical University of South Carolina degrees to students completing the satellite nursing program at FMU.
Rumored to be President Bush’s choice as the next U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Rep. Wilkins has served as speaker of the house since December 1994. He was the first Republican-elected speaker of any state legislative body in the South since Reconstruction.
Wilkins began his legislative career in 1980 as the first Republican to win the House District 24 seat in Greenville County. He quickly rose through the ranks, serving six years as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and two years as speaker pro tem. In his 20 years in the legislature, he has been on the cutting edge of every major reform initiative. He wrote or co-sponsored the legislation on welfare reform, property tax relief, education accountability, LIFE scholarships, judicial reform, government restructuring and truth-in-sentencing.
Wilkins has received numerous awards, including the 2000 Palmetto Leadership Award by the S.C. Policy Council, Outstanding Legislator of the Year by a wide range of organizations, and the National Republican Legislator of the Year.
A native of Greenville, Wilkins is a graduate of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina School of Law. After a stint in the army, he returned to Greenville where he has practiced law for more than a quarter of a century.
Justice Finney was first elected to the state Supreme Court in 1985. He was elected chief justice in 1994 and served in that capacity until his retirement last year.
A native of Smithfield, Va., Finney earned a bachelor’s degree from Claflin College in 1952 and a law degree from S.C. State University in 1954. After practicing law for a number of years, he was elected to the state House of Representatives from 1973 to 1976, before being elected judge of the Third Judicial Circuit in 1976.
Finney has served on the S.C. State Election Commission, is a member of the county, state, American and national bar associations and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, has served as chairman of the board of directors of the Buena Vista Development Corp., and serves on the board of trustees of Claflin College. He holds honorary degrees from Claflin College, Coastal Carolina University, the Citadel, Johnson C. Smith University, the College of Charleston, S.C. State University and Morris College.
A native of Kingstree, McGill is a real estate broker and residential homebuilder. A Democrat, he has served in the State Senate since 1989. He began his political career on the Kingstree Town Council, serving from 1976 to 1979. He was Kingstree mayor pro tem in 1978-79 and served as mayor from 1984 to 1988. He is a past member of the State Democratic Party Executive Committee.
As a state senator, McGill represents District 32, which includes parts of Williamsburg, Horry, Georgetown and Florence counties. In the Senate, he serves on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the Finance Committee, Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, General Committee, Invitations Committee and Transportation Committee. He is chairman of the Finance Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory and is a member of Southern Growth Policies Board.
A deacon at Kingstree First Baptist Church, he is past president of the Jaycees and the Kingstree Chamber of Commerce. He served on the board of directors of the Waccamaw Regional Planning and Development Council. He has served on the board of visitors at the Citadel and was named Legislator of the Year by the S.C. Association of Counties in 1993 and by the S.C. Association of Regional Councils in 1997. The American Legion named him Senator of the Year in 1999, and the S.C. Counseling Association gave him its Legislative Award in 1999.
McGill attended the Citadel and Francis Marion University. He was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the Citadel in 1994.