County treasurer dies at age 66

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Rowell remembered as family man, dedicated public servant

By Chris Sardelli

Mornings won’t be the same for Carrie Helms.
Helms was used to seeing her boss and county treasurer, R.E. “Dick” Rowell, stop by the office each morning about 10 a.m. She said the office staff would always greet him the same way.
“They’d holler to him, ‘Good morning, Mr. Rowell,’ and he’d brighten up and just grin from ear to ear,” Helms said. “That just tickled him every time.”
And when Rowell didn’t come into the office, he would always call to check in, she remembers. So, she was shocked to learn that her boss of more than 10 years had died suddenly Thursday at his home. Rowell was 66.
Helms and the rest of her coworkers learned the news Thursday afternoon.  
“This was such a sudden shock to all of us,” Helms said. “It was shocking because he was looking to retire soon and wanted  me to take over.”
Helms served as Lancaster County’s deputy treasurer under Rowell.
Last May, Rowell announced he would not seek another term after his current one expired in 2013. At the time, Rowell said he made the decision not because he doesn’t enjoy his job, but because he was simply ready to retire.
“He didn’t even get to enjoy retirement,” Helms said. “That’s something we all look forward to.”
Helms became deputy treasurer about three years ago, though she has worked for Rowell for about 10 years. She said she’ll miss joking around with her boss and sharing their fascination of everything Gamecocks-related.
“He was a good person, a thoughtful person and a family person,” she said. “He thought a lot of his family and his daughter, Mary Helen, was his world.”
Served the community
Born June 14, 1944, in Lancaster County, Rowell worked in several different professions. He spent more than 25 years in the banking industry, serving as a branch manager, supervising consumer loans at the Bank of Lancaster, which is now Wachovia. He then worked for nine years as an addictions counselor with Counseling Services of Lancaster.
Rowell served as treasurer since 2000, when he filled the unfinished term of Mary Alice Belk. He never faced opposition for the office after winning it.
County Administrator Steve Willis will remember Rowell for the work he did in the county.
“It’s a real shock because his service to the county ran for such a long time,” Willis said. “And his dad was a treasurer, too. So, he was a second generation Rowell to serve the residents of Lancaster County.”
His father, Richard Rowell, served as Lancaster County treasurer for 20 years. Rowell Jr. was 12 when his father first ran for the treasurer’s office.
“This is just such a shock and loss to all of us,” Willis said.
In an interview with The Lancaster News last May, Rowell said he planned to save up money for his retirement after his daughter graduated from the University of South Carolina. He was considering leaving officer early and transferring the office over to Helms before his current term expired in January 2013.
Looking back at his decade of service, Rowell told The Lancaster News he’d never been happier.
“Oh, yeah, I enjoyed it,” he said. “I’ve got the best staff in the building. We are just one big happy family. I look forward to coming into work every day.”
Willis said Helms automatically became acting treasurer after Rowell died, though Gov. Nikki Haley will be responsible for naming a successor to fill the rest of the term.
By Friday afternoon, several people had already left condolences to Rowell’s family on the Hartley Funeral Home website. A Kershaw resident said she’d miss their “short talks on softball,” while a Lancaster woman celebrated Rowell as a “wonderful person.”
“I enjoyed working with him,” she said. “He spoke of his family with great pride. He will be missed greatly.”
The auditor of Georgetown County, Linda Mock, left a message.
“We are blessed when we are public servants of the citizenry and servants of the Lord,” Mock said in the message. “Dick will be missed by all of us. We appreciated his service.”
Helms and the four other clerks in the treasurer’s office shared stories of their boss Friday as they tried to get back to work.  
“There’s nothing I could say negative about him,” Helms said. “This is just a sad time for all of us. Thank God, we’re busy. It’s keeping our minds occupied.”
In addition to his daughter, Rowell is survived by his wife, Debra, and sister, Betty Wilson.

Call reporter Chris Sardelli  at (803) 416-8416