Lois Eargle honored

Longtime Horry County Auditor Lois Eargle smiles and greets friends at the Horry County Council meeting on June 15 where council members honored Eargle for her decades of service. Eargle died Sunday after suffering a stroke in church. She was 85 years old.

The room focused on the little woman in the blue-green dress. 

She blew kisses. She dipped in for hugs. She pointed to folks in the crowd with wide smiles of recognition. For more than half a century, Lois Eargle had known how to work a room, and her last Horry County Council meeting as auditor on June 15 was no different.

With her retirement approaching, the council chairman presented her a resolution outlining her accomplishments: four-term state representative for District 105, county auditor for nearly 30 years, highway commissioner, Horry County Republican Party chairwoman. The list was so long it had to be condensed. Before she left the podium, Eargle received an American flag and note from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham telling her that the flag had been flown over the U.S. Capitol on May 25 in recognition of her half-century of service.

“Thank you so much,” Eargle said before quickly turning toward the crowd and referencing the gift. “It didn’t cost the taxpayers.”

Laughter erupted. Eargle always knew her audience.

Since she died from a stroke on Sunday, friends and family have gushed about how much she accomplished in her 85 years of life. Eargle was a feisty but friendly force in Horry County politics, a dressed-to-the-nines whirling dervish in red lipstick and frequently a stylish hat. 

“I’m too blessed to be stressed,” she would often say.

Lois Eargle

Horry County Auditor Lois Eargle celebrates as she watches the results come in Tuesday night at the Horry County Government and Justice Center.

“She just loved [politics] because she was such a people person,” said Susan Soucy, one of Eargle’s three daughters. “We used to, you know, kind of kid her — we couldn’t take her anywhere because we couldn’t grocery shop or eat because people were constantly coming over.”

Eargle eschewed the feminist label, but she took great pride in shattering ceilings along her political journey, which she documented in her 2014 book “Double Standards.” 

“She went places and did things that traditionally women had not been able to do in politics and she did it with grace and determination,” said former U.S. Rep. John Napier, one of Eargle’s longtime friends.

Eargle was the first woman in the county to run for a State House seat, and among the first to serve on the highway commission. She was the first non-lawyer to serve on South Carolina’s Judiciary Committee and was appointed to a committee for special needs children by then-President Ronald Reagan. Along the way, she raised three daughters and a son, taught Sunday school and joined civic clubs.

“That’s why I was always proud of her,” Soucy said. “You could go anywhere and mention her name and people knew who she was. She just loved people and loved Horry County.”

Lois Eargle and Ronald Reagan

Lois Eargle talks with former President Ronald Reagan. Eargle was appointed to a committee for special needs children by Reagan.

Despite all she accomplished here, Eargle’s roots lie in another part of the state. 

Originally from Sumter, Eargle quit high school at 15 years old to work because her father was terminally ill. 

Eargle and her late husband Jack came to Horry County in 1961.

Johnny Allen remembers her moving in a few houses down from him in the Ninth Avenue area of Conway. He could quickly tell this whip-smart young mother was going places. 

“Lois was a very, very dear lady,” Allen said. “A go-getter, smart, intelligent.”

Both Allen and Eargle attended the same Baptist church, and she taught his wife’s Sunday school class. He said local folks appreciated her sense of humor.

Eargle liked to wear hats, and one day she told her Sunday school class that she’d worn a hat that day because she hadn’t had time to fix her hair.

“She pulled her hat off and it was full of rollers,” Allen said.

Lois and Jack Eargle

Lois and Jack Eargle moved to Horry County in 1961. They were married for 66 years.

Soucy said when she was a teenager, her mother began a career in politics, first running for the state House of Representatives in 1976. Next, she served as highway commissioner and then was the assistant to the secretary of state. Her last elected position was auditor — the position in her career that she held for the longest amount of time.

Eargle campaign sign

Lois Eargle was the first Horry County woman to run for a State House seat in 1976. She served four terms.

During her years of public service, Eargle played an instrumental role in reforming the state’s judicial system. She was the face of a movement that called for uniform legal standards and opposed allowing lawyers to shop around the state for sympathetic judges. Voters agreed with her.

She eventually switched parties from Democrat to Republican and helped build the local GOP, twice serving as chair.

Lois Eargle runs

Lois Eargle was the first Horry County woman to run for a State House seat in 1976. She served four terms.

Eargle also operated with flair. 

Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught said during one of her campaigns Eargle asked him to drive her through parades in his red ’55 Ford Thunderbird.  

“She was the consummate politician,” he said. “She really was. … She was a county institution, and she always had the county’s good at heart. … She was for Horry County, period.”

Eargle and Scott

Lois Eargle poses for a photo with U.S. Sen Tim Scott, R-South Carolina.

Napier, the former congressman, met Eargle in the late ‘70s. Former Gov. James Edwards recommended Napier get to know Eargle while he was on the campaign trail, and she helped Napier build connections during his run for Congress. Napier said Eargle was known for fearlessly advocating for the causes she supported.

“She was sort of a bulldog,” he said. “And she did not quit.”

One case that cemented Eargle’s reputation for not backing down was her 1997 lawsuit against the county.

The case emerged from a wreck that involved Eargle and three of her employees. They were heading to the funeral of a coworker’s father in a county vehicle, but two hourly employees had not clocked out, a violation of county policy.

After the wreck, the two employees submitted leave forms for the time they were away. When then-county administrator Linda Angus learned what had happened, she met with Eargle to discuss disciplining the employees. When the two disagreed over how to handle the situation, Angus moved to suspend the employees. 

Eargle with Huckabee

Lois Eargle stands with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

That led to Eargle’s lawsuit, challenging the county’s authority to suspend employees who worked in an elected official’s office. 

The case generated statewide attention, and officials like the treasurer, sheriff and clerk of court wondered whether the court would preserve their rights to run their own departments.

Eargle ultimately prevailed.

Before he took the assistant Horry County administrator’s job in 2015, Justin Powell knew of Eargle because of her landmark lawsuit.

“I came in expecting her to be this tough-as-nails political operator,” he said. “And nothing could be further from the truth.”

What he found was someone who was warm and willing to listen, but who also had strong convictions about how taxpayers should be treated.

When county leaders decided to raise the road fee, there were questions about refunds and amending the budget. Powell remembers telling Eargle that one of her ideas wouldn’t work and the council likely wouldn’t make a budget amendment. About 30 minutes later, he received a call from the county council chairman informing him that the county would follow Eargle’s lead.

Eargle with George H.W. Bush

Lois Eargle stands with former President George H.W. Bush.

“She made us see the light,” Powell said. “You knew where she always stood. It was going to be ‘We’re going to treat the taxpayer in a friendly way and a fair way.’”

The wife of an office supply salesman, Eargle had little use for computers. But Powell remembers her trusting him when the auditor’s office embraced technology, converting personal property tax returns from a manual system with papers stacked in Myrtle Beach office to an electronic process.

Over time, they became friends. And after Powell left the county to become the S.C. Department of Transportation’s deputy secretary for finance and administration, she visited him in Columbia. 

“It’s a big loss,” he said of her death. “[She’s] definitely a legend in an area of very colorful political figures.”

Eargle’s outgoing nature allowed her to meet and communicate with people from all over the state.

Dorchester County Auditor JJ Messervy Jr. met Eargle after he took office in 2009.

The auditor’s office handles tax billing, and Messervy had researched the best program for dealing with out-of-state vehicle tags. He was pointed to Eargle.

After talking with her over the phone, she surprised him by bringing several members of her staff to his office in St. George to help set up a similar program. The drive there was over two hours.

“She was a stateswoman,” he said.

Inside her office, Eargle had a fun personality. She would tell jokes that made coworkers blush and often dressed up for Halloween and to take candy to the different offices within Horry County Government. 

Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones remembers Eargle once showing up to a meeting dressed as a hot dog.

“Me and [assessor Larry] Roscoe like to have fell out of our chairs,” Jones said. “That is something I could never get away with. … She was a hoot.”

Eargle as Santa

Lois Eargle often dressed up for the holidays.

Sandy Beckwith, a close friend who also worked for Eargle in the auditor’s office, remembers a trip where Eargle was asked if she wanted to get into the hot tub with some of her friends.

“I brought my bathing suit,” Eargle told them. “But I need to check to see if there’s a hole in the knee.”

Although she had a funny side, she could also be serious, frequently praying with friends, coworkers and sometimes complete strangers.

Beckwith remembers eating with Eargle at a Cracker Barrel during the week of the Grand Strand’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle rally.

Lois Eargle with Claudette Oliver

Lois Eargle greets former Sheriff's deputy Claudette Oliver, wife of former Horry County Republican Party Chairman Duane Oliver, at her tribute event this past week.

At one point, Eargle walked over to a group of bikers and started talking about her faith.

“I just want to tell you that Jesus Christ is your lord and savior and he loves you,” Eargle said. “And I want you to have a blessed day.”

“If I was having a hard time or if I was going through anything, she could feel it. She would call me,” Beckwith said. “She would pray with you over the phone. … She would see someone in distress throughout her day, she would stop and take the time to pray with that person. It didn’t matter what was going on at the office or how fast they needed her there. … She was a public servant.”

It wasn’t unusual for Eargle to invite someone she had just met for Sunday dinner. She hosted the family for Christmas Eve after church and would always cook meals without a recipe.

Maddie Soucy Smith, Eargle’s granddaughter, said Eargle often spoke about Christianity. 

“She truly lived that,” Smith said. “She professed her faith everywhere she went. She truly lived how Jesus did.”

Eargle taught Smith to not be ashamed of her faith.

Since March, Smith and her husband have lived with Eargle while they are building a home. It has been time that Smith said she wouldn’t ever take back.

Eargle elected president of S.C. Association of County Elected Executives

Horry County auditor Lois Eargle was sworn as president of the S.C. Association of Countywide Elected Executives by Secretary of State Mark Hammond.

Smith often pulled the curtains back each morning in a room with many windows that they call the Florida room at Eargle’s home.

On Monday, the day after Eargle died, Smith pulled the curtains open and saw two red Cardinals. 

“I was standing at the French doors that lead out onto her deck from the Florida room and I was literally thinking to myself, ‘I wish Nana was still in that chair,’” Smith said. “And as I was standing there thinking that — I kid you not — one red Cardinal appeared on the deck and then, seconds later, another Cardinal hopped over. I truly believe that was a sign from her that she’s with PawPaw and she’s OK.

“She would always tell us that she was ready whenever Jesus was ready to take her,” Smith said. “She wanted to go be with my PawPaw.”

Each time Eargle was out and about with Smith and Soucy, Eargle reminded every cashier and waiter that Jesus loved them and he was their best friend.

Smith said any time she had a big life moment or any type of worry, her grandmother would sit Smith down and pray.

“I truly believe she had a direct line to heaven,” Smith said. “If we had something big coming up, she would literally sit us down in a chair, put her hands on our head and just pray the most special prayers over us.”

In recent years, Eargle had endured hard times. Her husband of 66 years died in 2018, the same year her Conway home flooded during Hurricane Florence. 

After undergoing open heart surgery in January 2020, Eargle decided to retire from the auditor’s office. 

“I have to think about my health,” Eargle told myhorrynews.com in 2020, before chuckling. “If I’d run again, my girls would have beaten me.”

Despite her health challenges, friends say her death — she suffered the stroke while attending a church service — was unexpected.

Eargle was a woman who into her 80s would stretch for yoga poses or ride a few miles on an elliptical machine. 

Lois Eargle recognized one last time

Horry County Council members pay tribute to Lois Eargle at her last council meeting as auditor on June 15.

Even at her sendoff on June 15, she was working the room with the same razzle-dazzle she’d always shown.

“I tried my best to take the advice of Solomon in the Bible and ask for wisdom,” she said at the podium that night. “He gave it to me, and sometimes I didn’t listen because I wanted to do it my way and I messed up.”

But as she prepared to leave, Eargle offered her signature optimism, one shaped by her faith.

“I know the good Lord has something in store for me,” she said.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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I'm the editor of myhorrynews.com and the Carolina Forest Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Horry County, South Carolina. I cover county government, the justice system and agriculture. Know of a story that needs to be covered? Call me at 843-488-7236.

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