Gene Rich awarded the Order of the Palmetto

Anderson Independent Mail – ANDERSON — When Sen. Kevin Bryant told Linvil G. “Gene” Rich that Gov. Nikki Haley had awarded him the state’s top honor, the Order of the Palmetto, Rich was stunned but cracked a joke immediately.

“Did you tell her I’m a Yankee?” Rich said, causing his friends to erupt in laughter.

Rich awarded Order of the Palmetto

Bryant presented the honor to Rich on Friday in the Anderson Area YMCA’s community room. The senator was joined by about 40 of Rich’s friends, some of them members of the YMCA’s morning coffee club. Rich was also accompanied by his wife, Molly.

“Your entire career and life have been marked by trying to make South Carolina better,” Bryant said.

The Order of the Palmetto is considered the highest civilian honor in the state of South Carolina. The first Order of the Palmetto was awarded in 1971 by Gov. John C. West. It recognizes a person’s lifetime achievements and contributions to the state.

Any South Carolinian can nominate someone for the Order of the Palmetto, but the governor is the one who makes the final decision on who will receive the honor. In the past 40 years, more than 3,500 people have received the Order of the Palmetto, according to the state’s Department of Archives and History.

The award was given to Rich to honor a lifetime of work that the native of Illinois put into the engineering field, particularly environmental engineering. Rich served as the head of Clemson University’s civil engineering department for a year in 1960 and then was named dean of the university’s College of Engineering, a position he held until 1972.

But his largest accomplishments were made in the environmental engineering field, a program that he started at Clemson. From 1972 until 1987, Rich served as a professor of environmental engineering at Clemson University.

Now, his resume is so extensive at Clemson University that the university’s environmental research lab is named after him. He also the author of five books and more than 50 technical papers and founder of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, according to Clemson University’s website.

That list of accomplishments plus his sense of humor and humble personality is what made Rich so deserving of the award, his friends and a former student said.

Steve Graef, a former student of Rich’s, attended the ceremony. He said he attended Clemson University because of Rich’s reputation in the environmental engineering field.

Graef attended Clemson from 1967 until 1971 and earned his doctorate there.

“He was using biology, chemistry and physics to take dirty water and turn it into clean water,” Graef said. “He was a leader in the field. And he was always so accessible to the students. Because of that, we all had so much respect for him in the classroom. He really challenged us to excel, and he mentored us, and helped us develop our careers.”

In the midst of all his success, Rich’s friends said, the professor remained humble and jovial. Joe Drennon, who is the director of the Anderson YMCA, said he and several others wrote letters nominating Rich for the award.

Rich has been a longtime member at the YMCA and spends a lot of time there, socializing with other members at the YMCA’s morning coffee club. Just two weeks ago, Rich’s group of friends at the YMCA celebrated his 90th birthday with him.

“He’s such an intellectual,” Drennon said. “But he can talk anybody’s language.”