Politics & Government

JoAnn Gilham, former legislator, dies at 77

In this photo taken on Sept. 15, 2004, retiring state Rep. JoAnn Gilham summarized the legislative action occurring during the last session of the General Assembly to the League of Women Voters at the Hilton Head Island branch of the Beaufort Public Library.
In this photo taken on Sept. 15, 2004, retiring state Rep. JoAnn Gilham summarized the legislative action occurring during the last session of the General Assembly to the League of Women Voters at the Hilton Head Island branch of the Beaufort Public Library. Staff photo

JoAnn Gilham, for years a leading conservative, evangelical voice in Beaufort and Jasper counties and a former state representative from Hilton Head Island, died Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, in Columbia. She was 77.

She died of cancer, which was diagnosed in February, said daughter Leslie Gilham Tapp.

Gilham served many leadership roles in the Republican Party and was elected to represent District 123 in the S.C. House of Representatives from 1998 to 2004.

Gilham, who had been a school teacher and guidance counselor, focused on education at the Statehouse. She was a strong advocate for school choice. In her last term, she pushed unsuccessfully for a program called “Putting Parents in Charge” that would have given tax credits to parents who wanted their children to be educated in a private school, transfer to a different public school or learn at home.

“There are kids in this state that are being left behind, and they are the most needy kids,” she said.

She was cited as the chief sponsor of two major pieces of legislation.

One lowered the alcohol concentration at which a person may be inferred to be under the influence of alcohol from 0.10 to 0.08.

The other was the DMV Reform Act that separated the Department of Motor Vehicles from the Department of Public Safety to be more efficient and responsive to the needs of citizens.

Gilham retired after three terms, fulfilling a term-limitation promise.

Gilham was a Columbia native who moved to the Lowcountry in 1963 when her husband, Dr. Louis B. “Ben” Gilham, opened a dental practice in Ridgeland. Their two sets of twin girls and a son were reared there and on Hilton Head, when Dr. Gilham opened a practice on the island in 1973.

She served on the board of the Forest Beach Association, Beaufort County Community in Schools and was a member of the Professional Women of Hilton Head and a charter member of the Bluffton Lions Club. She was an advocate for mental health.

She attended the University of South Carolina and Luther Rice Seminary. She was a Sunday school teacher at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Ridgeland and was a lay counselor at Community Bible Church on Hilton Head.

She wrote for her obituary that her “greatest treasure was knowing Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord, her husband, children and all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Gilham moved to Columbia in 2006 to be closer to family when her husband, who survives her, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday in Columbia at Dunbar Funeral Home, Devine Street Chapel, with the Rev. Mike Baer and the Rev. Roy Graves officiating, with burial in Greenlawn Memorial Park. The family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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