Editorial: Remembering those who made Clinton what it is today
It was fitting and appropriate that former Spartanburg mayor and successful businessman Bill Barnet III delivered the Robert M. Vance Lecture Jan. 26 at Presbyterian College. The address is the most recent Robert M. Vance Lecture Series on Business Ethics. It’s fitting that Barnet was the person to talk to students, faculty, staff and members of the community because it’s said he is the first Vance Lecturer to have personally known the late Mr. Vance. It’s appropriate the series be named in memory of Clinton’s most successful business leader because he embodied ethics while leading two large and successful enterprises – Clinton Mills Inc. and M.S. Bailey and Son, Bankers. It’s doubtful a person could be in the public eye as long as Robert Vance was – he was 32 when he was named president of the bank and took over the mill at age 42 – without having detractors, but we honestly can’t name a person who ever had something negative to say about him publicly. None of the PC students who were at the Vance Lecture were born when Vance died, but his influence at Presbyterian and in Clinton continues. The Vance Lecture Series was founded and is funded by the Bailey Foundation, which has done so much good locally (and continues to do). Information from PC said that Vance “considered ethics, honesty and integrity to be extremely important.” The series gives PC students the chance to hear high-profile business leaders talk about how to run a successful business while maintaining a moral code in dealings with both employees and customers. Vance was the grandson of Mercer Silas Bailey, who founded Clinton Mills Inc. and later, M.S. Bailey and Son, Bankers (known locally as The Bailey Bank). In the fall of 1865, M.S. Bailey piled four bales of cotton onto a wagon and took it to Orangeburg, the nearest railroad depot, which was 110 miles away. He used the money from the sale of the cotton to open a mercantile business, which became Clinton Mills in 1896. Clinton Mills would eventually become Clinton’s (and Laurens County’s) largest employer. CMI became four plants in Clinton and later operated facilities in North Carolina, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. The Bailey Bank was THE financial institution in Clinton for years before merging several times into what is now TD Bank. The Bailey family sold CMI to some of the mill’s executives and it was later bought by an acquisition firm and then closed in the 1990s. Through the years, Robert M. Vance maintained offices in both CMI headquarters and the bank’s main branch, which is now the M.S. Bailey Municipal Center. He was approachable and accessible in ways that today’s business executives aren’t. He was never too busy for “the people” who worked for his businesses. Robert M. Vance was a World War II veteran and received 17 battle stars for his U.S. Navy service in both the Atlantic and Pacific, and was a lieutenant commander at the time of his honorable discharge. He was named the New York Board of Trade’s Textile Man of the Year in 1978. The Laurens County Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year award is named in his honor. It’s important we remember and honor those who have contributed so much to Clinton so many years ago and we’re glad PC, the chamber of commerce and others continue to remind us of our past.