Prioleau steps down after 24 years on Ridgeway Council

In attendance for Prioleau’s final meeting were family members: (from left) niece Shana Brown, son-in-law David Austin, daughter Samiria Prioleau, Prioleau, daughter Lavern Glover, granddaughter Lori Prioleau, wife Carolyn Prioleau, sister Diane Brown, and daughter Kimberly Austin. | Photos: Darlene Embleton

RIDGEWAY – It was 24 years ago that Rufus Jones encouraged his lifelong friend Donald Prioleau to run for a seat on the Ridgeway Town Council. Prioleau ran and won, becoming the first African-American elected to the Ridgeway Town Council.

“No one ever ran against him in all those years,” said Jones, who later served as mayor of the town. “He’s that kind of person. Always a popular representative, giving his all to his community.”

Last week, Prioleau, 78, – and now Mayor Pro Tem of council – presided over the town council meeting for the last time. He had served six four-year terms.

The council room was filled to the max as, one by one, members of the community stepped up to shake Prioleau’s hand, give him a hug, and congratulate, thank, and praise him for his dedication, leadership, and service to the town and for a job well done.

Speakers there included Robert Davis and Jones, a previous Ridgeway Mayor, and fellow councilman with Prioleau.

“We grew up together, and he’s my soul brother,” Jones said.

“He’s going to be missed,” Jones said. “He’s the best.” 

Prioleau and Rufus Jones

But last week, Prioleau told his constituents that it was time.

“I’ve had some health problems and I need to let someone else do this now,” he said.

While thanking everyone for their support and friendship, he referred warmly to Ridgeway as ‘this little town.” He ended his poignant farewell speech with one of his favorite quips – “I love you all, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

When Prioleau, 78, sat down, there was a long applause. His impact over the last 50 years on his town and county has been profound.

Always an active member of the community, Prioleau was one of the four founding members of Ridgeway’s popular Pig on the Ridge barbecue festival, helping to organize the event for more than 20 years. Prioleau and the other three members of the steering committee built the festival into the largest in the state at one time.

When Jones became mayor, Prioleau says he asked Jones about bringing a physician to the town.

“Rufus told me to go find one and he supported me one hundred percent in bringing it to Ridgeway,” Prioleau said. “That’s the medical facility we still have in our little town.”

He was also instrumental in bringing a funeral home to Ridgeway.

“When funeral director Eddie Nelson was looking for a place to build his funeral home, he came to me and I found a great location on the edge of the town,” Prioleau said. Prioleau later worked at Nelson’s Funeral Home and he said he still answers when called upon.

Prioleau was also the spark behind the restoration of his alma mater, the old Fairfield School in Winnsboro. He has served as president of the alumni association since 1982, and will soon lead his former classmates in the restoration of a second project – the school’s gym.  Under Prioleau’s leadership, the association donates scholarships to Fairfield Central High School, holds blood drives and organizes a parade and tailgate every other year. They will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fairfield School next year.

He has been a Mason and member of Purity Lodge in Ridgeway for 56 years and a member of the C.C. Johnson Masonic Lodge and the Shriners Cairo Temple, both in Columbia, for 50 years each.

He has served on the executive committee of the Fairfield County NAACP for four years, and as an elder in the Lebanon Presbyterian Church for over 40 years.

And for years, Prioleau was the wildly popular comedic emcee of the Pig on the Ridge car show drive-thru.

Prioleau is retired from a career as a professional, long haul truck driver for companies like Weyerhaeuser, Rich Tex, and Boise Cascade.

Looking back over the years, Prioleau said he loved every minute of what he did.

“It was something God called on me to do.” he said. “And I loved doing it.”

Prioleau is the father of three daughters and his late son, Donald, Jr. Prioleau and his wife Carolyn saw three girls – Lavern, Kimberly, and Samiria – through college (Winthrop, Benedict, and the University of South Carolina), and they all still live fairly close to their parents. Prioleau also has seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Prioleau says that while he knows he’s going to miss going to council meetings the second Thursday night of every month, and making important decisions for the Town, he says he’s leaving it in good hands.

“I won’t be far away and if they need something, I’ll be there,” Prioleau said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll always do what I can to help.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Donald Prioleau accepts a plaque for his 24 years of service to Ridgeway from fellow councilmembers Belva Bush Belton, Dan Martin and Rick Johnson.

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