Hilton Head community leader, top FBI aide 'Deke' DeLoach dies at 92

tbarton@islandpacket.comMarch 14, 2013 

Long-time Hilton Head Island community leader Cartha "Deke" DeLoach -- once a top aide to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover -- died Wednesday night.

He was 92.

DeLoach, who served on Beaufort County Council in the 1980s, is the father of assistant Hilton Head town manager Greg DeLoach, who said his father died of natural causes.

Deke DeLoach worked as a deputy director under Hoover supervising many of the FBI's toughest and most memorable cases, most notably the investigation that helped convict James Earl Ray for the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1964, DeLoach called President Lyndon Johnson to tell him that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found near Philadelphia, Miss. -- a case that galvanized the civil rights movement and ended in June 2005 with the manslaughter conviction of former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen.

DeLoach was the last surviving member of Hoover's exclusive inner circle, a trusted deputy and personal confidant. He is credited with giving one of the most authentic accounts ever written about the FBI, a book titled "Hoover's FBI: The Inside Story by Hoover's Trusted Lieutenant."

"No other person in the world knows more about J. Edgar Hoover than Cartha D. 'Deke' DeLoach," the late U.S. congressman and former FBI special agent Samuel L. Devine wrote of DeLoach's book.

"Deke 'tells it like it is' -- the unblemished truth," Devine added.

DeLoach also was a consultant for Clint Eastwood's 2011 biopic, "J. Edgar," discussing Hoover's private life during a three-hour visit with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who portrayed Hoover in the film.

"He was brilliant," DeLoach explained to The Island Packet in a 1989 interview, in which he characterized Hoover as witty, sentimental and compassionate. "He was married to his job. He somewhat felt (the FBI) was his kingdom."

"I loved him, but I didn't like him," DeLoach add, noting Hoover's management style and reluctance to give up the job. That prompted him to leave the FBI after a 29-year career in which he became the bureau's third-ranking officer.

After he departed, DeLoach spent 15 years as vice president of PepsiCo Inc.

Locally, DeLoach was instrumental in starting the Self Family Arts Center, now the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, spearheading the Hilton Head Island Cultural Council's fundraising efforts.

He remained chairman emeritus of the arts center until his death.

"It was his vision, power of persuasion and dedication that created this institution, and we will be forever indebted to him," arts center executive director Kathy Bateson said.

DeLoach also was active in scholarship and charity organizations, including the Heritage Classic and J. Edgar Hoover foundations. The latter provided scholarships to students pursuing careers in law enforcement.

Greg DeLoach recalled that when his father first moved to the island in the early 1980s, he asked Hilton Head developer and philanthropist Joe Fraser if the community would offer him anything to do in retirement.

"Joe laughed and said, 'Just wait and see,' " Greg DeLoach said. "He always had a calling for service -- whether on the local level, corporate level or federal level -- and was very successful."

DeLoach often helped get FBI training for sheriff's deputies, either bringing instructors to Beaufort County or recommending deputies for instruction at the FBI's academy in Quantico, Va.

"He was always eager to help in any way he could, and he was genuine about it," Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said. "He loved law enforcement and he loved community. That was just the person he was and the way he will always be remembered."

In 1989, DeLoach helped launch an investigation that led to the largest cocaine bust in South Carolina history, helping local and federal drug agents seize a half-ton of cocaine smuggled to the resort island aboard a boat before it could be distributed to New York and Miami.

DeLoach was honored in September by Mayor Drew Laughlin, who said Hilton Head was the "fortunate beneficiary" of DeLoach's "redirected focus" after moving to the island in 1982.

"He was one of the people that helped build this island into what it is and his passing is a great loss," Laughlin said Thursday. "He's an example of the kind of individual who always used his talents and skills to help the community. And he was a genuinely nice man."

DeLoach is survived by his wife, Barbara; three daughters: Barbie, Theresa, and Sharon; and sons Deke Jr., Tom, Greg, and Mark.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Holy Family Catholic Church. A private burial will follow at Six Oaks Cemetery in Sea Pines.

The Island Funeral Home & Crematory is in charge of arrangements.

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