A life well lived
Speedy Starnes was dedicated to Great Falls
The first time I met Dr. H.C. “Speedy” Starnes was in 1992 when he was serving as the Interim Superintendent of Education for Chester County. I was a reporter and editor at the Chester News & Reporter and I covered Education and the Chester County School Board. I met him at the Career Center for some reason, I don’t remember why, and he sat down and we had a delightful conversation. I was more than nine years away from taking the job as the executive director of the Great Falls Home Town Association and little did I know just how well I would get to know Speedy.
From that very first interview, my impression was a man of great humility but with a driven purpose. He cared greatly about his students in Great Falls and all the students and teachers across Chester County. It was evident as he talked about that interim job that he was taking on for a short time as the school district looked for another superintendent.
Fast forward nine years later. I had moved from the newspaper to the Chester Downtown Development Association, written a book and worked briefly for Chester County. Speedy was one of the first people to greet me. By that time, he had been mayor of Great Falls for about three years and GFHTA had been focused on Nature Based Tourism for about a year. We had no idea how much time we would spend pushing the tourism initiative.
Speedy spent so much of his life in dedication to the small textile town he adopted back in 1951 when he came here as a guidance counselor and ended up coaching football.
He would regale stories of his early time here in Great Falls, living originally in one of the two mill executive houses on Dearborn Street (the one next to the current War Memorial Building.) He told me while living there, on the second floor, that he heard a noise in the basement. In that basement was a large safe which had an armored door and was always closed. That noise startled him, and he slowly descended the stairs and turned the corner where that safe was located. That heavy armored door was closed. It took him very little time to get back up the stairs. He found another place to live not long after that.
In early 2003, he and I began a journey that would bring us closer to having the many areas of outdoor recreation that Great Falls is looking forward to today. Duke Energy began a stakeholder process that brought together people from across the Catawba/Wateree River basin to negotiate an agreement to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in connection with the license renewal. For three years, once a month or even more often, Speedy and I and a few others from Great Falls met with dozens of other stakeholders to hammer out the agreement.
After that process, it still took nine years until the license was issued and another two years before things really got underway with the planning, design and finally the construction of the whitewater area, access areas and the trails.
By that time Speedy was no longer mayor but he came by the office at least once a week to find out the status of things. As is the case with most of us, it gets harder to remember things as we get older. He didn’t always remember the details but he was extremely interested in what was going on.
The pandemic hit and he had to stay in but at least once a week and usually twice he called for an update and to find out if there was anything he could do. In the past six or eight months the calls got fewer and his questions were usually the same ones he asked from the last time we talked. But he always ended our conversations with “I want to keep up with what’s going on. You call me if there is anything I can do.”
I got word early Sunday morning that he had passed away peacefully. His beloved Jeanette was nearby and his family as well.
Speedy Starnes dedicated his life to Great Falls. Much of what is happening to revitalize this lovely little former mill town is due to that dedication. He will be truly missed by all who loved him – including me.