Hundreds gathered Tuesday to honor and remember Beaufort City Councilman Gary Fordham, a longtime public servant who, despite a lengthy battle with multiple sclerosis, held to his faith, joy for life and love of family and friends.
"Gary's life was not defined by a diagnosis some 22 years ago," the Rev. Susan Ulmer said during Fordham's funeral at Carteret Street United Methodist Church. "Rather, his life was defined by his relationships. ... Gary's life began and ended right here in this community that he held so dear."
Fordham, 64, died Friday in his home. The Beaufort native had battled for decades against multiple sclerosis, a disabling neurological disease.
He earned a degree in political science from The Citadel in 1968 and worked as an attorney after getting his law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1971. He also served as a captain in the U.S. Army.
Fordham served for 16 years on Beaufort County Council before being elected to Beaufort City Council in 1999, earning a reputation among his peers and constituents as a straight-talking and passionate public servant.
Although slowed by his illness and bound to a wheelchair, Fordham always arrived at meetings prepared to tackle the issues with a "grounded, common-sense" approach, fellow Councilman Mike McFee told The Beaufort Gazette.
Although many will remember him for his public service, many also recall his deep love for his daughters, grandchildren and wife of 39 years, Joan.
His daughters, Caroline Smith and Elizabeth Render, said they will forever remember the lessons he taught them -- from how to shoot a shotgun and drive a stick-shift car, to showing by example how a man should treat his family.
"I've had many great teachers in my life, but the best one was my dad," Smith said.
He expressed his love in so many ways, Render said.
"He just wanted to be with us," she said. "I hope that I have half the joy for life and other people that my dad had."
One couldn't truly know Fordham without knowing his beloved wife, the Rev. Frank P. Seignious III said. Seignious told the congregation about a two-hour visit he had with Fordham shortly before his death.
"Sometimes we laughed and sometimes we cried, but over and over he said, 'God was so good to me because he gave me Joan,' " Seignious said.
"You did win his heart," Seignious said, looking at Joan Fordham, "and he won the hearts of a lot of people."