By Chris Trainor
Passionate warrior. Bridge builder. Mentor.
Those are just a few of the words and phrases community members are using following the death of former longtime Richland School District 1 board member and Columbia community leader Vince Ford, who died Tuesday night after a brief illness.
From 1992 to 2016, Ford was an influential member of the Richland 1 board, and had stints as the chairman of the body. A Columbia native, he also served on the board of Benedict College, which was his alma mater.
Ford also was a leader in the medical and business communities. He was long a senior vice president for Prisma, where in 1997, when it was then known as Palmetto Health, he helped establish the office of community health services . As noted by the SC African American History Calendar , that office sought to “meet the unmet health needs of the community’s uninsured and medically underserved populations in Columbia.”
Ford was a life member of the NAACP, a brother with the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and a 2018 inductee to the Richland One Hall of Fame. Ford, an A.C. Flora High School graduate, also was a member of the Columbia Housing Authority Wall of Fame, which honors former Columbia Housing Authority residents who went on to success in their given fields.
Tributes from across the Midlands began pouring out Wednesday morning as news of Ford’s death began to circulate.
Former two-decade Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said Ford was especially instrumental in her life. She called him “big brother” and he called her “little sis.” When Devine first ran for City Council in 2002, Ford was one of the first big local names to support her campaign. The former councilwoman also said Ford was the one who initially introduced her to Jamie Devine, who became her husband.
“He has always been my mentor, my friend and my big brother,” Devine said of Ford. “He has been my friend forever. He wasn’t just one thing. He was multi-talented and an advisor to so many people. … It’s a devastating time for all of us. It’s going to be really hard. There are people you lose, and you know it’s going to be a loss. But this one is just an unbelievable loss, because he meant so much to so many people.”
Current Richland 1 board member Aaron Bishop was emotional Wednesday morning when talking about his long friendship with Ford. He described Ford as a “trailblazer” and a “bridge builder,” and said Ford was long a mentor to him. Bishop said the relationship between Ford and him was almost akin to the close bond between a martial arts master and a student.
“He was more than a role model,” Bishop said. “You have role models and you have real models. He was a real model of leadership. … Vince has been in my life for three decades. That’s three decades of learning from the best. There is no other Vince Ford. There is not another one.
“He was everything. Anywhere that I was heading or thought that I was going as a professional destination, his footprints were already there and his name was already there.”
The State has reached out to Richland 1 administration for comment.
Prisma Health said in a statement on social media that Ford was “a nationally recognized leader in promoting community health equity” who worked in the hospital system for a quarter century.
“Vince was well known across South Carolina and the country for operating programs and forging partnerships that delivered medical and social health services to historically underserved populations,” the hospital system said. “His legacy will live on as we continue to build on the strong community health platform that he created.”
Former three-term Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said that Ford’s passing will be felt across the capital city.
“Our community is heartbroken over the loss of Vince Ford,” Benjamin said. “Vince was a passionate warrior for all the things he held dear — his family, children, education, access to quality health care for all and this Columbia community that helped shape him. We will miss him.”
On Wednesday morning the nonprofit community also was mourning Ford’s death.
FoodShare South Carolina, an organization that works to address food insecurities and food deserts in Columbia and across the state, lauded Ford’s work and lamented his passing on social media.
“Our community has lost a hero,” FoodShare SC said on Twitter . “Vince Ford was a fierce advocate for health equity in our community. He was instrumental in bringing together organizations dedicated to social justice work in historically underserved communities and we are grateful for his leadership.”
While he long served as part of the Richland 1 board, it was clear Ford’s impact was felt in the schools, too. On Wednesday, W.A. Perry Middle School offered a tribute to the late leader.
“Mr. Vince Ford was a remarkable man with energy, dedication, and vision, who made significant contributions to W.A. Perry Middle School and so many other worthy causes,” the school posted on its Facebook page . “The W.A. Perry family wishes to extend our deepest condolences to The Ford Family. He will be sorely missed.”
University of South Carolina board member and former basketball star Alex English also offered a tribute to Ford, saying late Tuesday night on Twitter that Columbia had “lost a good man.”
“He stood for making it right,” English tweeted of Ford. “He did not hide from the fight. I lost a good friend and brother. Strength and condolences to his family. He did good work through his example as a human being.”
The State. December 7, 2022.