The Manning Times is doing a series featuring important women in the county for National Women's History Month. The following article, written by Melissa McCoy, has been taken from a copy of Clare magazine from years ago. Some updates have been made. If you were to describe the 1960s with one word, equality isn’t anyone’s first choice. However, in a decade defined by the fight for civil rights and gender equality, former mayor Pansy Ridgeway was just that: an equal. In fact, when Ridgeway was asked if she ever encountered any problems from her male counterparts in the community because of her gender, it was as if the idea of females being the lesser sex had never even occurred to her. She was smart, hardworking, and up for any challenge. That was all that mattered.
A career girl at an early age, Ridgeway worked at Brunson’s Pharmacy on Brooks Street throughout high school. After graduating from Manning High School in 1949, she went on to receive her B.A. from Furman University. After college, Ridgeway returned to Manning and taught locally for one year. She then went on to open Polly and Pansey’s with her sister, Polly. Polly and Pansey’s was a women’s dress shop, also on Brooks Street. Today, locals are familiar with the location as Brooks Street Exchange. It was her role as a local business owner that would lead Ridgeway to run for city council.
As a shop owner, Ridgeway had a dilemma. At the time, the parking spaces behind the shops were unpaved and there were no lights for merchants to see by as they went to their cars in the evenings. Ridgeway asked a city council member to help her get the lots paved. The council member seemed unwilling to help and eventually challenged the would-be mayor. If she could do a better job than he, she should run for the council herself. “You know, that’s an idea. A good idea,” she replied. In 1962, Ridgeway became the first female member of the Manning City Council.
When describing her first few years on the council with no other female support, Ridgeway spoke highly of the conduct of the men she worked with. “I have to say, they were all gentlemen. They worked with me, and sometimes for me. They were very gracious, very kind. I didn’t even foresee, did not think about there being any problems. And it was not a problem. It was a real joy.”
Ridgeway did share her strategy on how she was able to get her ideas heard without stepping on any toes. She would pitch the idea to an elder, male council member who would then present it as his own. While this would upset some for not receiving the deserved credit, Ridgeway did not mind. “It didn’t matter to me who got the credit, whatever got the job done.” After several years of negotiating, she did finish her initial goal. She was able to come to an agreement with all the business owners on Brooks Street and paved the lots behind the shops.
Ridgeway ran for mayor in 1969 and took office in 1970. From sewer lines and industrial growth to snowstorms and hurricanes, she had plenty of memories to share from her 26 years as mayor. One of her biggest challenges was having the sewer lines extended to all residents within city limits. “I moved to the city. Where we moved, there was no sewer but my taxes were the same as those who had the city sewer. And I thought that needed to be changed.” She then worked several years to have the utility lines available to everyone in the city. Ridgeway also expressed her pleasure regarding the expansion of the water lines down Highway 260 and throughout Clarendon County. Unfortunately, she was ill during the ceremony for the project in 2012. Former Senator John C. Land III spoke of Ridgeway during the ceremony because “in the 70s and 80s, Mayor Ridgeway struggled to get sewer lines to the interstate. That was the beginning of growth in Clarendon County.”
The utility project opened up the opportunity for industrial growth in Manning. Sunbeam was the first large company to break ground after the utility project, followed by Federal Mogul Of course, bringing in new industry had its controversy. Some residents were opposed to the city running the utility lines outside the city limits to the industrial park. “I tried to sell the project as best as I knew how. That new industry would bring people in and create jobs.” Ridgeway finally won over the general public by having the project funded with a federal grant.
On the topic of new businesses in the area, one of Ridgeway’s fondest memories was the many phone calls she received from Sam Walton during the construction of the original Wal-Mart building. A reflection of his reputation for being friendly and humble, they became “real friends” over the phone. “He said to me, ‘Now ma’am, don’t be surprised if I ride down in my pick-up one day and take you out to lunch.’” Walton would become ill before he could fulfill that promise, but his charm made a lasting impression on the mayor. “It was like talking to your next door neighbor,” she recalled.
As the landscape of Manning was changing with new business developments, severe weather brought on its own changes. A snowstorm in 1973 is still talked about among long-time residents each time it snows in Clarendon County. Ridgeway had 23 inches of snow at her home from that storm. She flew in a helicopter with former Governor John C. West when he visited the area to assess the damage. The city also had to temporarily ban alcohol sales and implemented a curfew.
Another major storm during Mayor Ridgeway’s term was Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The damage from the hurricane was extensive in Clarendon County and made national headlines. THE LOS ANGELES TIMES published a story about aid being slow to arrive to Manning the night the hurricane hit and the isolation of the town afterwards. Ridgeway lamented to the LA TIMES that Manning “felt a bit left out. We couldn’t call out and we’re smaller. You have to take care of the places where most of the people are.”
During her 26 years in office, the country itself was changing drastically. The civil rights movement, Vietnam, oil crisis, and the introduction of computers were all national developments during Mayor Ridgeway’s time in office. Manning, being a small town, went through these changes rather quietly. For example, civil rights demonstrations, marches, and sit-ins were conducted with relatively little problems. “No problems at all when it came to integrating the schools, whatsoever,” she recalled. The people of Manning were “very calm and cooperative” during this era.
It would seem logical that one of the large projects she oversaw to conclusion or a storm she helped the city through would be some of her proudest moments. But it was the small things she helped ordinary citizens accomplish that she is most proud of and are some of her sweetest memories. “Any time I could help a young person, whether it was getting a job or getting into a college they wanted, that brought a lot of satisfaction.” When an elderly gentleman asked Mayor Ridgeway about paving the short street to his home because the doctor was having difficulty navigating the road and getting to the gentleman’s ailing wide, she was eager to help. She contacted the highway department and was able to have the road paved for him. “I think that anything anybody ever said to me in the way of thanks, I think that will stand out in my mind forever. It is one thing that has stood out in my mind all these years, just how happy it made him.”
Balancing her personal life, her business, and the duties of mayor was never particularly difficult for Ridgeway. She kept a morning routine and was able to still run the dress shop during her term. When advising today’s career-oriented women, Ridgeway recommends “the pursuit of that which would fit in with your home activities.” While she believes women have a place within the home, she never overlooks a woman’s place in politics and business. “I think any time a woman is in charge of anything, you’ll find it’ll get done quicker and probably a little better.” Not to say that all men procrastinate, but Mayor Ridgeway says all the women she has worked with over the years felt as she did, that “if you’re going to do something, get on it and do it. And move on.”
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