John Gadson Sr. was always helping someone.
"(His wife) called me earlier and said they're going to put on his tomb, 'Going to a meeting,' because he was always going somewhere," family friend and fellow church member Inez Washington said.
Gadson, 77, died Sunday morning at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston following an illness. Friends on Wednesday praised his calm, persuasive spirit.
"He is a person who can calm the waters when you have board meetings and things get kind of off track," Washington said. "Sometimes tempers can flare, and he knows how to get people to talk and work together."
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Gadson was an educator and community leader whose accomplishments were recognized by the S.C. Senate in April.
He was married to Henrietta Gadson for 60 years, and they have two daughters, two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren. His son, John William Gadson Jr., is deceased.
He served in the U.S. Army before graduating from S.C. State College in 1960. Gadson earned a master's degree in education from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.
He taught science at Robert Smalls High School from 1960 to 1966, and was director of the Beaufort-Jasper Neighborhood Youth Corps, according to a state Senate resolution and his obituary.
From 1969 to 1977, he served as the first black executive director of the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, which started as one of the nation's first schools for blacks. During his tenure, the center was listed as a National Historic Landmark District.
While in law school, local attorney Louis Dore worked for the Black Land Program at the center during summers. Over the years, he and Gadson served together in various roles.
"He was the kind of person who would lend his support and time and work for any group that was helping to build and strengthen the community," Dore said.
Gadson's career continued in state government. Research from his fellowship with the Ford Foundation led to the creation of the State Consumer Advocacy Office, according to his obituary. Subsequent posts included deputy director of the Division of Rural Development and Special Economic Assistance and director of the Division of Small and Minority Business Assistance.
Gadson retired in 2001 from S.C. State University as director of the Regional Small Business Development Center.
He served on the Beaufort Housing Authority, the city's Historic District Review Board and the Beaufort County Planning and Zoning Commission.
The Rev. Alexander McBride, pastor at First African Baptist Church, said Gadson, a deacon there, helped get the church onto firmer financial footing.
McBride said Gadson, whom he called "Paw-paw," was a gracious, humble leader who served as a surrogate father to McBride, who never knew his own.
"He has been a friend and a father to me, and I'm very grateful to him," he said.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling called Gadson a "low-key, laid-back, powerhouse" who was "kind and gentle, forthright and forceful."
"He was always someone I could go to who could bring people together to ... make a decision and to ... resolve a dispute," Keyserling said. "He just had that gentle quality about him where people trusted him."