Bill Brice, York’s longest-serving mayor, dies at 84

scetrone@heraldonline.comDecember 8, 2012 

  • Brice memorials Memorials may be made to First Presbyterian Church of York, 10 W Liberty St., York, SC, 29745; or to the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House, 2275 India Hook Rd., Rock Hill, SC, 29732.

— The flags in York are flying at half staff.

The city is mourning and honoring a man who served residents for more than half a century, first as mayor and then as the city’s counsel.

William McCaslin Brice, Jr., York’s attorney and longest serving mayor, died late Friday at the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House in Rock Hill. He was 84.

“I bet there’s not a family in this city that he did not touch,” York Mayor Eddie Lee said.

Brice, whom everyone called Bill, was 28 when he was elected mayor in 1956. He was the youngest mayor in the city’s history.

He served until 1968 and then became the city’s attorney, a position he held until Friday around 10:45 p.m., when he died.

Those who knew Brice described him as soft-spoken and thoughtful, a diligent and fair-minded lawyer who guided the city through integration and then helped shape York’s identity.

City leaders continued to seek his guidance and relied on his experience.

“He was a mentor of mine and a friend,” Lee said.

“He was a walking encyclopedia. He was wise. He was a member of the greatest generation. He wasn’t just old school. He was dean of the old school.”

Many people sought Brice’s insights whether it was on a city ordinance or just practical advice, City Manager Charles Helms said.

There was seldom a simple answer.

“He would always say, ‘Let me research that and get back to you,” said Helms, who worked with Brice for 35 years. “He never would make a hasty decision.”

Brice was born in York and graduated from York High School. After serving with the Army in the Pacific during World War II, Brice returned to study law at the University of South Carolina. He married Elizabeth McCorkle, his high school sweetheart, while he was in law school. They were married for 61 years.

Bill and Elizabeth were known to wake up at 5 a.m. to exercise at the YMCA off East Madison Street. For fun, Bill played golf.

“He didn’t keep score,” Helms said. “He just enjoyed playing.”

Throughout his career, Brice practiced in various areas of the law, from taxes, contracts and real estate to government and criminal defense.

There are people in York who knew Brice as the lawyer who worked on their adoption papers, taxes, mortgages and wills. For some, he handled their estates.

It was “from birth-to-death with a lot of clients,” said Brice’s son, William “Mac” Brice.

That loyalty lasted, Mac Brice said, because his father treated law as a profession, not a business.

“He gave his full attention to every person that came in his office,” Mac said.

Many of his clients called him “Lawyer Brice.”

Mac Brice followed his father into the practice and was by his side since finishing law school. The Brice Law firm is now his.

“There have been people who come in and say, ‘I know you’re an attorney, but I need to see Lawyer Brice,’” Mac Brice said.

Outside of the office, Bill Brice was active in local organizations, including the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of York board, the Foundation of the Carolinas, York Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club.

He was a member, deacon, elder and trustee at First Presbyterian Church of York.

For years, Bill managed elections around the county. It was before ballots were cast electronically, when voters filled out slips of paper and dropped them through a slot. Mac Brice recalled helping stack ballot boxes as a child.

Despite all of his work, Bill Brice was low key.

“In many ways, he avoided the spotlight,” Mac said. “He never sought any glory.”

Helms, who plans to talk with Mac Brice about becoming the city’s attorney, recalled that he and Bill discussed retiring a couple years ago.

“He said, ‘They’ll pry my hands away from this desk,’” Helms said. “He never planned on retiring.”

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