As many as 350 mourners paid final tribute Friday to former Hilton Head Island Town Councilman Bill Ferguson, a native islander remembered as an activist who fought for his Ward 1 constituents.
As many as 350 mourners paid final tribute Friday to former Hilton Head Town Councilman Bill Ferguson, a native islander remembered as an activist who fought for his Ward 1 constituents.
The tributes came at First Presbyterian Church of Hilton Head Island, where the sanctuary was packed with family and friends, as well as town officials past and present, who recalled Ferguson's fighting spirit as the town's lone black council member for 19 years.
"Bill let it be known that Ward 1 is a place we should treasure," said Mayor Drew Laughlin, who served on council with Ferguson.
Never miss a local story.
Ferguson died Aug. 23 in his home after complications from previous health problems. He was 65.
The Vietnam veteran said in 2012 he was taking medication for several illnesses, including diabetes and exposure to Agent Orange during his military service.
Ferguson was born on the island on Dec. 4, 1947. He attended elementary school at then-segregated Michael C. Riley School and graduated from high school in Bluffton.
Following graduation, he was drafted into the military and served two years in Vietnam with his lifelong friend Irv Campbell, who grew up on the island with Ferguson.
"You don't realize that connection you develop in combat," Campbell said of his friendship with Ferguson. "It's hard to describe unless you've been there."
After the military, Ferguson attended college in South Carolina, then in California, where he followed his sweetheart, Linda Hornbeak. The two married in 1979.
Ferguson returned to the island in 1984 and established The Island Gardener landscaping company and the Ferguson Community Development Corp.
In 1993, Ferguson ran for Town Council and won by one vote. He represented Ward 1 for the next 19 years, running unopposed from 2003 until 2012. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2010.
Ward 1 includes the Chaplin community and neighborhoods around Squire Pope, Gumtree, Spanish Wells and Marshland roads, as well as Mathews Drive.
As a councilman, Ferguson successfully fought to get water and sewer service for his ward and to pave dirt roads.
Some credited him with protecting native islanders' property rights and drawing needed attention to the northern area of the island, where some felt they had long been ignored.
"Bill knew that just driving down (U.S.) 278 would not allow Town Council to get a feel for his ward," Laughlin said.
In his spare time, Ferguson studied the Bible, gardened and played golf, family and friends said.
Ferguson's health was deteriorating when Campbell visited him in the hospital a few weeks ago.
"He looked me right in the eyes," Campbell said. "He said, 'Irvin, I don't want anything.'"
Ferguson is survived by his wife, Linda; his four children, Roger, Jamila, Willie and Kesi; and eight grandchildren.
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.