They called him Big Thunder.
His rich baritone soared when he talked and resonated even more when he sang.
Former state Rep. Floyd Breeland, who passed away Tuesday at 87, loved public service, first as a teacher, then as a high school administrator and finally in the Statehouse. After representing the Charleston peninsula from 1993 to 2007, he continued to serve by running a College of Charleston program to encourage young black men to be teachers and role models for kids.
"Representative Breeland was a fine man and an exemplary public servant," recalls House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville. "We spent eight years serving in the House together, and I will always remember Floyd for his kind spirit and marvelous singing voice. His album still sits in my collection, and I will cherish it along with my many fond memories of him."
Many recalled how Breeland's gentle but solid strength held sway when colleagues needed to be reminded of the right thing to do.
"Floyd Breeland was a quiet leader with a big heart for his fellow South Carolinians, especially the young people," said former Gov. David Beasley, now head of the World Food Program. "He lived his life in service to them, as an educator and as a state representative.
"When I was working as governor on important education legislation, I knew that any feedback I got from him was honest and represented what he thought was best for the children of our state. Even as we miss him, we should all follow the example he set by being kind and humble every day."
For years, state Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, sat next to Breeland on the floor of the S.C. House. Breeland was a confidant and friend.
"Behind that incredible smile was a giving heart," Mack said. "He loved people. He blessed so many people as an educator and later as a legislator. We thank God for the time Floyd Breeland got to spend with us. Rest in peace, my brother."
For Charleston native and Columbia lawyer Edwin Givens, Breeland was like an uncle, a longtime friend of the family.
"I could talk to him about things that sometimes I couldn't talk to my dad about," Givens wrote on Facebook. Later he added in an interview, "He was a selfless person — just someone who was always willing to serve. He never sought the limelight. He accomplished so much by not seeing the limelight, but getting the job done."
Breeland, born and raised near St. George, moved to Charleston after graduating in 1955 from Allen University, where he was a roommate of Daniel Martin Sr., a former S.C. circuit judge and legislator.
Many remember Breeland's 33 years as a Charleston music teacher and a high school principal. Others recall him in Charleston's important first production of "Porgy and Bess" in 1970 during South Carolina's tricentennial celebration.
"He used to tease me about my accent when I would pronounce 'house,' former state Rep. Jimmy Bailey of Charleston said. "I would look at him and say, 'You understand what i am saying, but some of those from the Upstate don't!'"
Others remembered the respect Breeland had for everyone.
"He worked for his constituents and always put them first," said state Sen. Paul Campbel, R-Goose Creek. "He was a joy to work with and will be missed in our part of the world."
Former state Rep. Vida Miller of Pawleys Island remembered Breeland's smile, compassion and integrity. "In stressful moments on the House floor, he would take to the podium and sing in his wonderful bass voice — always calming and with a standing ovation. He was a gentleman and a true statesman. His earthly presence will be greatly missed, but the angels are rejoicing."
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said people throughout the city grieved.
"Floyd Breeland was a dedicated public servant, a faithful friend, and a kind and thoughtful neighbor, as Sandy and I had the pleasure of discovering when we lived down the street from Floyd and his remarkable family many years ago in Hampton Terrace. We join the whole Charleston community in mourning his loss, and in celebrating the extraordinary life and legacy he leaves behind."
Floyd Breeland, 1933-2020. Rest in peace.
Andy Brack publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: email@example.com.