- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Longtime South Carolina state Sen. Billy O’Dell died Thursday at the age of 77, authorities said.

Greenwood County Coroner Sonny Cox said his office was notified and responded a little before 11 a.m. to lawmaker’s home, where was pronounced dead. Cox said the cause of death is thought to be related to a heart condition.

Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, called for a moment of silence during a gathering of dozens of reporters and editors in a legislative building.

“When I think of Sen. O’Dell, I think of his support for The Citadel and his great love of South Carolina,” Peeler said during a break in the session. “He brought a calmness to the Senate. He was very reasoned. He didn’t talk much, but when he did, we listened.”

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, called O’Dell an “exceptional man.”

“He was a consensus builder and reached across party lines,” he said. “The Senate will sorely miss his voice and his leadership.”

Entering the Senate in 1989, O’Dell served on several powerful committees including Senate Finance and Labor, Commerce and Industry. He also chaired the General Committee, which serves as a catch-all for special projects, such as the panel that investigated the Department of Social Services over the past two years.

O’Dell graduated from The Citadel in 1960 and was CEO of the O’Dell Corporation, a mop, broom and dust mop manufacturing company started by his father after he returned from service in World War II, according to the company’s website.

He held a variety of positions within the business community in the Greenwood County and at the state level, serving as director of the State Chamber of Commerce in the 1980s. He served on The Citadel Board of Visitors for a decade, according to O’Dell’s legislative biography.

In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley said she was grateful for the service of O’Dell, who she said had “worked tirelessly for the people of his district and the state.”

Haley added that O’Dell “made South Carolina a better place.”

O’Dell’s death is the second in the tightknit Senate chamber in seven months. Last June, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney was among nine parishioners shot to death during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. Suspect Dylann Roof currently faces state and federal charges in that case.

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Associated Press writers Seanna Adcox, Jeffrey Collins and Bruce Smith contributed to this report.

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard

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