Courtesy of Kim Truett/University of South Carolina

Clinton speaks at USC to honor former SC governor, cabinet secretary

Former President Bill Clinton mostly stayed away from politics and focused on his friendship with former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley during an address at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center on Monday.

Clinton was in Columbia to celebrate the unveiling of the new Richard Riley Collection on the campus of USC.

The former Democratic president chronicled his relationship with Riley, from their trip to "governor's school" when they were both first elected as governors in the 1970s through his presidency and beyond.

Clinton said the Greenville native always put his constituents first, something he believes is the hallmark of "the single greatest quality of public service."

Riley, an icon of South Carolina politics who was propelled to the national stage in the 1990s as Clinton's secretary of education, explored the collection earlier in the day at its home in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library.

The more than 3,000 pieces of Riley's life included in the exhibit are part of the university's South Carolina Political Collections. It features decades worth of papers, campaign memorabilia and even Riley's infamous cowboy boots.

Thomas McNally, dean of University Libraries, called the event one of the the school's "greatest days."

The celebrtion drew generations of South Carolina politicians, from state legislators to former state supreme court justices and current Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.

In his address, university President Harris Pastides heralded Riley as the "finest secretary of education" in U.S. history.

Riley, visibly moved by the showing at the afternoon gathering, spent much of his address thanking family and friends in attendance.

Though he did not mention current President Donald Trump, Riley called for unity across party lines when it comes to education.

 “What we need now more than ever is to come together,” he said. 

The Riley collection is open to the public through late December in the Hollings Library, accessible through Thomas Cooper Library.

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