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CITIZEN COLUMN: Bigger than life

CITIZEN COLUMN: Bigger than life

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Tom Kinard (James T. Kinard) was bigger than life, but he insisted on a small-town life in Florence with his beloved Tilly (Linda P.).

His deep, sonorous, booming voice became his trademark, along with a welcoming smile, open arms and a relentless, highly intelligent pursuit of history, politics and life. These traits made him irresistible and irrepressible.

The world could have been his oyster (from William Shakespeare, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” 1602), but he turned it down. He just loved Florence and South Carolina; it’s that simple … and that complex.

Tom was born on Oct. 2, 1948 in Gaffney. He attended The Columbia Military Academy (his father was a Methodist minister), and then the University of South Carolina, Columbia, majoring in, of course, history. He had an excellent foundation in Christianity and public service.

Tom met Tilly in Myrtle Beach on a blind date. Amusing story: He told a friend, “I’m going to drop that girl like a hot potato.” Well, instead, he and Tilly married on Feb. 12, 1971, in Florence. Working in Augusta, Charlotte and then Florence, he began a career in radio broadcasting.

Tom detoured from radio to sales for Trayco plumbing supply company, moving to Jacksonville to service Florida customers. When his father died, he and Tilly returned home about 1984; he then became manager of Pattillo Printing in Florence. He also got back into radio, starting the “Kinard ’N Koffee” show. Later, around 1996, he became the manager of business development at Pee Dee Electric Company and also helped with its political work, due to his huge contact base. In addition he had time to research the internet for all kinds of topics, keeping many files, including music, photography and movies, historical conspiracies, biographies, etc. …

He and his daughter, Kristy, were special together. Friends said they looked and acted as if twins. Tilly remembers how he always protected Kirsty, even when she was a child, going so far as to secretly eat her squash; Mom didn’t find out for many years.

During all of this time his radio reputation grew. His radio show added “Kinard ’N Christmas.” He was on the air from 6 to 9 each weekday morning with news, jokes, international stories and his famous interviews.

Most of his guests were locals promoting civic events, their books, their businesses or just to chat with Tom. You could tell that he was up to date on the topics at hand and had already read the author’s books; he did his research. He was always proud when national politicians, authors or actors came on his show. He loved to tell campaigning politicians, “Now, you must promise me, when you win, you will be a regular on my show.”

Both his great voice and personality catapulted him to statewide gigs as master of ceremonies, speaker, advertiser or storyteller at too many events to list. He was forced to wear tuxedos. I suppose he was most proud of his job as the announcer at the Darlington Raceway (nobody could say “Drivers, start your engines” like Tom), but he also relished his acting and announcing at the Florence Little Theatre and his Christmas season series, “The Other Wiseman,” carrying on a Kinard tradition from his father. His “telling” was adapted from the book, “The Other Wise Man,” by Henry van Dyke, Harper and Brothers, 1895.

He was the most enthusiastic supporter of Florence at the June 1997 All-American City competition in Kansas City, even broadcasting Kinard ’N Koffee from Kansas City with Jane Pigg. As a pilot, he was proud of his position on the Pee Dee Regional Airport Authority, working to grow the airport’s facilities and service.

His shows made him both regionally and nationally famous. As his fame and reputation grew, he was offered attractive media jobs in New York and Chicago; he chose to stay in Florence. But he did love to travel with Tilly, often driving in their van to destinations well researched. I still smile, as once he called me asking for touring assistance when they were in Montreal and Quebec City. Tilly fondly recalls their tours of Buckingham and Kensington Palaces the year of the Queen’s 60th Wedding Anniversary, 2007.

Learning the “ropes” of Florence and taking on the rebuilding of the Florence Symphony Orchestra (1983-1992; see “How the Florence Symphony Survived a Rough Patch,” the Morning News, May 7, 2013), I met Tom Kinard on his radio show. He was most gracious, basically teaching me how to raise money and to promote the symphony on the radio. I never forgot his patience and mentorship, and I never did escape his magical aura. I spent two hours with him, Tilly and Kristy the night before he died. Although he was sedated, we all prayed together and cried together.

Tom and I reunited over the Florence Civic Center struggle (see “Florence Honors Woody Jones,” Morning News, Dec. 18, 2019) and served on the first Florence Civic Center board together for four years. That was when we really “bonded.” I leapt at the chance to become a regular on his show, once a month for many years. Then we hit on the idea of some regular series.

Wining Tom an award from the American Medical Association for community service and broadcast reporting in 1995, we explored monthly “Health Care Reform in the United States” from 1992-1994; “Political Potpourri” monthly from 1995 to 1996 and then quarterly “The Big Story” from 1997-2002. I was pleased his radio show successor, Ken Ard, invited me to Tom’s retirement party in 2012.

Fortunately, Tom stayed in touch over the succeeding years with lunches two to three times a year, he preferring Fatz Café and Holts Brothers BBQ. He also kept his hand in the community, writing columns for Golden Life Newspaper.

There goes, indeed, a Great Man.

James Thomas Kinard, Oct. 2, 1948, to Feb. 1, 2020.

Consent and Historical and Editorial assistance from Tilly Kinard.

Dr. Stephen Imbeau and his wife Shirley moved to Florence from Wisconsin on March 1, 1980. Their three children were born and raised in Florence. Dr. Imbeau and Dr. Joseph Moyer opened the Allergy Asthma and Sinus Center in 1996, now one of the largest allergy practices in South Carolina. You can reach him at

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