Though he was slowed by multiple sclerosis and bound to a wheelchair in his later years, Gary Fordham's fellow Beaufort City Council members always knew the former attorney would arrive to each meeting ready to tackle issues head on.
"He was a man of great courage," said Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling. "When you think about what he was going through with his illness, yet he still kept coming to meetings and still kept answering e-mails, and he was always prepared. He really loved what he did."
Fordham, 64, died Friday night in his Beaufort home, according to city officials. A cause of death was not immediately known but Fordham had battled for more than 15 years against multiple sclerosis, a disabling neurological disease.
A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Carteret Street United Methodist Church in Beaufort, according to Copeland Funeral Service.
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A Beaufort native, Fordham worked as an attorney after earning his law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1971. He was admitted to the bar the same year, according to the S.C. Bar Association.
Fordham served for 16 years on Beaufort County Council before being elected to Beaufort City Council in 1999, earning reputation among his peers and constituents as a straight-talking and passionate public servant.
"You always knew where he stood on an issue," Councilman Mike Sutton said. "His consistency will be missed. His era is over and Beaufort will miss him."
Councilman Mike McFee said Fordham and former Councilman George O'Kelley helped convince him to seek a seat on the City Council in 2008.
McFee said Fordham's pragmatic approach to public policy will be missed, but he is relieved his longtime friend no longer has to battle MS.
"Both on city council and county council, (Fordham) had such a grounded, common-sense approach to the issues," McFee said. "That will be a part of his legacy and something we need to continue striving for on council. This has been such a hard illness for Gary and his family. This is a blessing because we know he's in a better place."
Fordham's passion for public service also earned him some admirers among state elected representatives.
"I will miss his wit, contagious smile and timely emails," State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said. "His friendship and council will always be special to me. It's a sad day for our community."
Fordham had announced in October he would not seek reelection to the City Council when his current term expires in 2012 but did not cite his health as the reason.
"I just think it's time for me to step down and turn the reins over to someone new," Fordham told The Beaufort Gazette.
Keyserling said the City Council soon will decide when a special election will be held to determine who will serve the reminder of Fordham's term.
Councilwoman Donnie Beer said it will be tough to find someone who loved Beaufort as much as Fordham.
"He was a Beaufort native and he loved serving on council," Beer said. "He always had the best interest of the community in mind."